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Copyright 1997 


Susan-Marie Birkenstock 













Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School 

of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the 

Requirements for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy 



Susan-Marie Birkenstock 

December 1997 

Chairman: Dr. Ira Clark 
Major Department: English 

My dissertation researches the early modern woman in 
England, how conduct books constructed the masculine ideal 
of that woman, and how that ideal was further inscribed 
through dramatic representations of women by boy actors. 
Gesture in the conventional theatrical representations of 
women and the conduct book constructions of the feminine 
becomes a language that needs decoding to help one 
understand the social sensibilities of the early modern 
culture and the way in which women were positioned within 
their society. 

Gesture as an outward manifestation of one's inward 
will became an increasingly important signifier throughout 
the reigns of Elizabeth and James. Bodily comportment 


reflected a woman's socio-economic position insofar as her 
averted glances, blushes, unfurrowed brows, and non- 
threatening posture in general demonstrated her non- 
authoritative social status and her economic dependence 
upon and passive obedience to her spouse, father, or other 
male guardian. Gestures were a self-identif icatory 
mechanism that implied fundamental differences in social 
position and, therefore, in degree of power or 
powerlessness . While noblemen and aristocratic youths were 
instructed in refining their gestures to demonstrate their 
superior rank and authority, to mime a language of self- 
possession and social power, women were admonished to 
refine their bodily movements as well, with the opposite 
results . 

No matter how disciplined this body became, it would, 
nevertheless, be considered materially- and ontologically- 
inferior by the male-dominant family/maternal ideology. 
Each gesture, therefore, became a tacit mea culpa, an 
admission of the female body's deficiency. In essence, a 
woman was to wear her soul and her role on the exterior of 
her body. From the averted glance of her eye to the 
abbreviated length of her gait, she was to demonstrate her 
role of virgin, wife, or widow with restraint and without 
the slightest suggestion of boldness, pride, or self- 

possession. Inherent in this coding of the female body was 
its requirement to remain outside the public arena and 
inside the cellular home of the nuclear family. Therefore, 
a woman was twice-enclosed by the physical structure of her 
domicile and by her own feminine gesturology. 



During the Early Modern Period, England was 
experiencing a vast social and economic transition. 
Throughout the sixteenth century, the phenomenon of 
"enclosure" deprived farmers of arable lands and, 
therefore, their livelihood, and converted the rich 
landowners' properties into grazing fields bounded by a 
seemingly endless labyrinth of hedges that served to 
contain the grazing sheep crucial to the lucrative and 
expanding cloth industry. 1 Other forms of enclosure were 
transpiring as well. The Black Death, having begun its 
maleficent mission in 1348, had, by the fifteenth century, 
reduced the population in England by a third. This 
tremendous decrease in the populace devastated the long- 
standing feudal economy. Manorial landlords, in order to 

1 William C. Carroll, "The Nursery of Beggary," Enclosure Acts, ed. 
Richard Burt and John Michael Archer (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994), 34-47. 
Caroll suggests that all lands were not necessarily enclosed for sheep 
grazing. In some cases, the lands were enclosed to make them more 
arable by employing innovative farming methods that would produce an 
improved crop yield. In other cases, lands were enclosed as the result 
of personal feuds between members of the gentry. Tenants were not 
always opposed to such measures since they, too, profited by them; and 
they were not always evicted from the land to become vagrants. 
Nevertheless, this does not contradict the fact that land was being 
enclosed as a regular practice. Enclosure does not necessarily denote 
land being physically walled- or fenced-in. This term applies to the 

survive the resultant rising labor costs and falling rents, 
began to lease not only their farming land but also their 
"mills, marshes, meadows, and parks." 2 Meanwhile, many 
disgruntled peasants left their plows behind to join the 
large influx of the "masterless" who either abandoned or 
were forced off the open fields or out of the spacious 
manor houses to live in the often small, crowded houses of 
London where they sought refuge and employment. For a 
variety of reasons, 3 sixteenth-century London had become the 
largest city of Europe. Because London proper was not a 
large metropolis, it suffered the ills of overpopulation. 
Many inhabitants faced unemployment, inadequate housing, 
unsanitary conditions and frequent outbreaks of the bubonic 
plague. Those who could not find work or housing were 
designated as "vagrants" or "vagabonds" and placed inside 
workhouses . 

general practice of the privitization of land by the wealthy owners who 
wished to take control of it. 

2 John C. Coldewey, "Some Economic Aspects of the Late Medieval Drama," 
Contexts for Early English Drama, ed. Marianne G. Briscoe and John C. 
Coldewey (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 79. 

3 David Bevington, in his introduction to The Complete Works of 
Shakespeare, Third Ed. (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, 1980), suggests 
unemployment was caused by Henry VIII' s closing of the monasteries, a 
fluctuating wool trade economy, land enclosure, immigrant artisans, and 
war veterans returning from the continent. All Bevington' s 
introductory material to Shakespeare's plays derive from this edition. 

This sense of enclosure further manifested itself in 
the emerging nuclear family. Lawrence Stone writes that 
the "porosity" or sense of openness to external influences, 
typical of all class levels of the late medieval and early 
sixteenth-century family, was in "contrast to the more 
sealed off and private nuclear family type that was to 
develop in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries." 4 The 
life-style of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth 
centuries included an urbanized family life, one that 
withdrew from the "great hall to the private dining-room." 5 
While England was by and large an agrarian nation at this 
time, with an approximately 10% urbanized population, much 
of the country's activity was focused in London. 

This apparently nationalistic notion of enclosure was 
evident in the theater as well. During this period, many 
of the changes that affected England economically and 
demographically, e.g., the shift of a strong economy from 
the North and Midlands of England to the Southeast had a 
hand in altering dramatic entertainment. The medieval 
guilds, which, for centuries, had been responsible for 
producing civic drama, were facing strong commercial 

4 Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. 
Abridged Edition (New York: Harper, 1979) 69. 

5 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 95. 

competition from business ventures outside their towns. 
Staging plays became a financial burden that many guilds 
could no longer sustain. Moreover, the English Reformation 
brought its own combinations of social and economic change, 
none of which fostered guild productions of plays. Parish 
drama, produced either by the members of the parish or by 
religious guilds, fell by the wayside as well. 6 Parish 
accounts show that the proceeds from dramatic productions 
frequently were the primary source of income for a country 
parish that utilized these funds to maintain their church 
buildings. If the performances were financially 
successful, the parish took its play on tour to other towns 
that for one reason or another did not produce their own 
dramas. Beginning around the mid-fifteenth century, it was 
not uncommon for troupes of actors to be circulating from 
one community to the next, performing in a variety of 
venues. One particular record shows a play being performed 
in a quarry on the outskirts of Shrewsbury. Inn-yards, 
dining halls, and guildhalls were converted into 
performance sites as well. Occasionally, a large-scale 
production was presented in a town with the assistance of a 
hired player and perhaps other professionals brought in 
from other locales. Additionally, larger towns produced 

Coldewey, "Some Economic Aspects of the Late Medieval Drama," 77-101, 

yearly events that were the collaborations of either craft 
or religious guilds. Many of these productions, however, 
were a series of pageants or dumb shows, out-of-door 
ambulatory events that resembled religious processions and 
royal progresses. Performances of both a secular and 
religious nature moved within towns and cities and about 
the country landscape in response to a mostly rural 
audience. 7 However, by the last quarter of the sixteenth 
century, these "on-the-road" dramas, once performed either 
on pageant wagons or in a variety of acting areas within 
the towns, were being upstaged by dramas written and played 
year-round on a daily basis within the new, stationary 
commercial playhouses. 8 Once the first permanent theater 
was built in London and professional acting companies 
remained in that city, the majority of traveling players 
would be those who could not find permanent employment in a 
professional acting company in London or who were escaping 
an outbreak of the plague. London companies did go on tour 
once a year or when business was bad; however, as these 

7 Alexandra F. Johnston, in "What if No Texts Survived?" in Contexts for 
Early English Drama, ed. Marianne G. Briscoe and John C. Coldewey 
(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 8-10, draws "preliminary conclusions" 
from new external evidence gathered for the Records of Early English 
Drama (REED), founded in Toronto in 1975. 

8 See Harold Charles Gardiner. Mysteries' End: an Investigation of the 
Last Days of the Medieval Religious Stage. New Haven: Yale UP, 1946. 

companies became more profitable, toward the end of James 
I's reign and into Charles I's, the tours lessened. 9 

Steven Mullaney sees the development of professional 
dramaturgy in early modern London as a "troublesome and 
potentially subversive social phenomenon that threatened 
religious and civic hierarchies." 10 Yet, the troublesome 
nature of drama was nothing new. Guild representatives who 
sat as members of city councils decided whether, for 
example, the Chester cycle of plays could be performed. 
The records seem to indicate that two or more Protestant 
factions were arguing over whether or not certain 
representations of religious subject matter were 
appropriate. Religious dramas could have been banned or 
revised depending upon the objections raised by civic and 
religious leaders. Records from York show that between 
1568 and 1579, both lay and church leaders ordered 
revisions or suppression of plays if they appeared to be 
too Catholic or "popish" in nature. 11 In 1549, Edward VI, 

9 Gerald Eades Bentley, The Profession of Player in Shakespeare's Time: 
1590-1642 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1984). See especially Chapter 7. 

10 Steven Mullaney, The Place of the Stage: License, Play, and Power in 
Renaissance England (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988) vii. 

11 Lawrence M. Clopper in "Lay and Clerical Impact on Civic Religious 
Drama and Ceremony," in Contexts for Early English Drama, ed. Marianne 
G. Briscoe and John C Coldewey (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 102- 
129, believes the civic leaders of medieval cities were concerned about 
the moral and religious well-being of their city's inhabitants and 

obviously surmising the subversive nature of drama, banned 

all plays and activities "which might be judged 

seditious." 12 Mullaney further argues that, because the 

permanent playhouses were marginalized, erected in London's 

Liberties, alongside brothels and lazariums, that they were 

located on a "more ambivalent staging ground," 13 more than, 

say, the religious and civic processionals that became 

ideological inscriptions within the city walls. However, 

Mullaney himself suggests how unambivalent that staging 

ground was for the leper: 

Leprosy was no longer excluded from 
society in any full sense, as it once 
had been, but was instead stationed at 
the perimeters of cities and towns, set 
apart but maintained in ritual 
seclusion. Once free (or condemned) to 
wander, the leper was now bound fast to 
the horizon of community. His role as 
a form of marginal spectacle had 
commenced. 14 

Marginalized or not, the leper has been contained. 

Likewise, popular drama, because it was physically located 

outside the city walls, was no less regulated. In fact, it 

would seem that the popular theater of Elizabethan and 

Jacobean London was far more contained than Mullaney 

carefully reviewed the plays for their content to ascertain their 
scriptural accuracy. 

12 Clopper, "Lay and Clerical Impact on Civic Religious Drama and 
Ceremony, " 121 . 

13 Mullaney, The Place of the Stage, viii. 

14 Mullaney, The Place of the Stage, 33, emphasis mine. 

suggests. Like its medieval predecessors, dramas were 
subject to the scrutiny of the government officials in 
whose locales they were to be performed. From the reign of 
Elizabeth I through that of Charles I, a play could not be 
performed unless its manuscript was submitted to and 
approved by the Master of the Revels whose autographed 
official statement was normally placed at the end of the 
manuscript. The Office of the Revels, established by Henry 
VIII to supervise court entertainment, gradually evolved 
into the position of Master of the Revels who regulated all 
theatrical productions. Before a performance, theatrical 
companies were required to bring their manuscripts to the 
Master for inspection and licensing, for which the theater 
owner paid a licensing fee. Dramatists, actors, and 
managers were subject to fines and even imprisonment if 
they failed to meet the requirements of the Master of the 
Revels who had the power to order alteration of the 
manuscript or to disallow the play's performance. 15 

Moreover, both new plays and revivals were subject to 
the Master's inspection. An acting company could 
occasionally violate the law and stage an unlicensed play 
or add offensive lines to an already-licensed manuscript. 
However, plays could be censored for criticizing the 
government, either explicitly or implicitly (often through 

15 Gerald Eades Bentley, The Profession of Dramatist in Shakespeare's 
Time: 1590-1642 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1971). See especially 
Chapter 7. 

analogous scenes) ; for unfavorable portrayals of "friendly" 
foreign powers; for containing controversial religious 
implications; and for the use of profanity or personal 
satire. Additionally, a manuscript could be licensed after 
a reading and then be censored after its performance, once 
the text's dramatization gave the manuscript new meaning. 
The Master of the Revels was in a powerful position from 
which the official could penalize offenders with varying 
degrees of severity, ranging from requiring that 
manuscripts be altered to closing a theater or imprisoning 
actors and dramatists. 16 Consequently, to violate the 
regulations would have been foolhardy, indeed, insofar as 
the consequences of such behavior could have meant reduced 
profits or the loss of an impresario's and acting company's 
livelihood. While medieval drama was subjected to official 
censorship, it would seem that it was less scrutinized, 
especially since so many players belonged to traveling 
troupes that performed in such a variety of towns and 
venues. Conversely, once playing in London became a 
commercial venture, actors remained in fixed playhouses. 
It would appear that early modern drama could have been 
facilely observed by the officials, enclosed as it was in a 
building just outside a city's perimeter. By the time 
James ascended to the throne, impresarios were moving 
toward the fully-enclosed hall-type "private house, " as 

16 Bentley, The Profession of Dramatist. See especially Chapter 7, 


opposed to the amphitheaters that were only partially 
roofed. Shakespeare's company had established a daily 
performance schedule in Blackfriars, one of the private 
theaters located within the city of London. 17 

The theater, by Shakespeare's time, had become a 
highly-successful commercial venture. It had also become a 
political tool with which Elizabeth presented herself to 
her subjects as the divinely-ordained monarch who would 
shore up and maintain what some theologians perceived to be 
a faltering "right ordre" and "degre of people." 18 
Justification of monarchical privilege by holy degree and 
decree was implemented by Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII. 
As Louis Montrose puts it, 

The Tudor State sought to legitimate 
itself by means of its integration into 
a providentially ordered cosmos. But 
it could not effectively contain the 
ideologically anomalous realities of 
heterodoxy, nor arrest the social flux, 
that it had helped to set in motion. 19 

In order to extricate itself from this paradoxical bind, 

the Elizabethan regime had to interpellate its subjects 

into a new nationalistic ideology and away from a "popular 

and religious culture. . .tainted by the superstitions and 

17 Andrew Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare's London (Cambridge: Cambridge 
UP, 1987.) See especially Chapter 2. 

18 Certain Sermons or Homilies (1547) and A Homily against Disobedience 
and Wilful Rebellion (1570): A Critical Edition, ed. Ronald B. Bond 
(Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1987) 61, qtd. in Louis Montrose, The Purpose 
of Playing: Shakespeare and the Cultural Politics of the Elizabethan 
Theatre (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996) 20-21. 

19 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 21. 


idolatrous practices of the old faith." 20 In essence, 
Elizabeth produced her own "show" and, more succinctly, her 
own "self" by selectively appropriating "popular and 
liturgical practices, ceremonial and dramatic forms" and 
transforming them into "elaborate and effusive celebrations 
of the monarchy...," 21 a process Edwin Davenport terms the 
"selective reconstruction of custom." 22 As Montrose 
effectively argues, the royal processions "affirmed 
principles of good government and reformed religion." 23 For 
Elizabeth to achieve the social harmony to which she 
aspired, her regime and, therefore, the presentation of her 
person in processions had to appear nationalistic in 
nature. 24 Ear too much tension still existed between those 
who embraced Catholicism and its rites and traditions and 

20 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 24. 

21 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 25. 

22 Edwin Davenport, "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of 
Manners," ELH 63 (1996): 259. I am grateful to my colleague Tai-Won 
Kim for bringing this article to my attention. 

23 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 26. 

24 Davenport, in "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of Manners," 
traces this customization of ritual, begun with the early Elizabethan 
reformers. Various Royal and Episcopal Injunctions sought to remove 
the "popishness" from religious practices. Davenport quotes a 1561 
bishop's injunction that demands ministers "neither use any gestures of 
the popish Mass, in the time of ministration of the Communion, as 
shifting of the book, washing, breathing, crossing, or such like" (256- 
7). Other injunctions were careful to maintain a sense of gendered 
hierarchy in religious processions in which community members could 
participate annually "with the curate and the substantial men of the 
parish" (263) . Davenport writes, "Royal Injunctions were interpreted 
to restrict the gender, number, and station of Rogation observers, 
redefining the practice by specifying who could participate in it" 
(265) . 


those who continued to seek religious reform. While the 
Reformation brought Protestantism to England, Elizabeth's 
brand of religion was state-sanctioned. 25 By utilizing the 
forms of religious procession and dramatic presentation, 
she created herself as a religio-political icon that 
represented the Nation of England. 26 

While some social historians see this transformation 
of the medieval procession as the loss of a popular and 
religious culture to the gain of a secular order, 27 others 
see it as the move from the religio-civic community to the 
"disciplinary state hierarchy." 28 Montrose reads this move 
as "one that incorporates the local within a national 
framework and subordinates it to the political and cultural 

25 Leonard Tennenhouse, "Playing and Power," Staging the Renaissance: 
Reinterpretations of Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama, ed. David Scott 
Kastan and Peter Stallybrass (New York: Routledge, 1991} . Tennenhouse 
says that Elizabeth's coat of arms replaced the religious images of the 
English church and that her sexual body assumed the power of those 
usurped images. He writes that paintings and engravings of the queen 
at times conjoined her body with England's terrain or ornamented it 
with symbols of power and wealth. 

26 See John N. King, Tudor Royal Iconography: Literature and Art in an 
Age of Religious Crisis (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1989) and Frances 
Amelia Yates, Astraea: the Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century 
(Boston: Routledge, 1975. 

27 I draw from Louis Montrose who, in The Purpose of Playing, summarizes 
the work of Mervyn James in Society, Politics and Culture: Studies in 
Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP: 1986) 16-47; and Charles 
Phythian-Adams, "Ceremony and the citizen: The communal year at 
Coventry 1450-1550," in Crisis and Order in English Towns 1500-1700, 

ed. Peter Clark and Paul Slack (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972) 

28 Montrose, in The Purpose of Playing, 26, is characterizing an 
argument by Miri Rubin in Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late 
Medieval Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge UP: 1991). 


center." 29 While I find all of these arguments valid, I 
believe that another issue needs to be addressed. For 
Elizabeth, as the odd mixture of woman and prince, these 
progresses also became the transmutation of the masculine 
into the feminine, an Ovidian metamorphosis of omnipotent 
prince into the antithesis of the Renaissance notion of 
woman. Elizabeth had to prove that, although she was a 
woman, she was, none the less, a prince and the sovereign 
of her realm. In utilizing the dramatic form of the 
procession to affirm her sovereignty, she subverted a long- 
standing tradition. I say this because, although these 
medieval religious processions were communal in nature, 
they were always led by authoritative male church 
officials 30 in order to maintain a gendered social 
hierarchy. While Elizabeth utilized the procession to 
retain the long-established "chain of being" which placed a 
monarch above her subjects, she simultaneously ruptured 
that chain by placing a woman in a position of ultimate 
human authority. From the beginning of time, no matter 
where a woman found herself in the pecking order, she was 
always subordinated to her male social counterpart. Of 
course, Elizabeth was anything but the normative woman. 
More like the Virgin Mary than her sister Mary, Elizabeth 

29 Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 23. 

30 Miri Rubin sees these medieval processions as a display and 
reinscription of the social hierarchy that "excluded most working 
people, women, children, visitors and servants. ..." Qtd. in 
Montrose, The Purpose of Playing, 23. 


became the perpetual virgin whose body was set apart, 
unpenetrated and worshipped from afar. Elizabeth, in the 
body of a woman, was an oxymoron as a female patriarch, 
and, as such, was a woman who appeared accountable to no 
one but God. None the less, the queen had to work 
diligently to maintain such a position, continually 
displaying a body that exceeded its "natural" limitations. 

Elizabeth's feminization of the dramatic adumbrates a 
stock polemic employed by religious moralists who would 
monotonously argue throughout Elizabeth's reign and beyond 
that the theater, by its very nature, was feminine. It was 
a threat to a male-dominant society because it sexually 
aroused male spectators, weakening their moral fiber and 
turning them into women. Boy actors, the theatrical 
detractors asserted, were feminized when they played women 
characters; and male spectators, in turn, were feminized by 
the allure of these female characters. Antitheatrical 
tracts repeatedly attack the theater as a feminine 
institution, one that had progressively been brought 
indoors, enclosed, officially observed, and when necessary, 
censored by the state. 

Obviously, the drama presented on the Elizabethan and 
Jacobean stage was not the overtly didactic and moralistic 
fare its medieval predecessors had been fed. And, judging 
from the vituperative antitheatrical discourse of the later 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, "stage plays were no 
longer appropriate vehicles for communicating Protestant 


doctrine" 31 or any religious doctrine for that matter. 32 
Once London playgoing became a commercial venture and 
players remained in fixed venues, dramatists established an 
intimate relationship with their audiences, supplying them 
with constantly evolving repertories. Since playgoers were 
paying for their entertainment, their tastes and money 
quickly took precedence over the didacticism of morality 
plays and the like. 33 Eventually, contemporary newsworthy 
incidents became the subject matter for plays, including 
sensationalized murders, court conspiracies, and witch 
trials. 34 We know that playwrights took license with their 
themes, and sometimes risked offending the ruling monarch, 
as Shakespeare in all probability did with his Richard II. 
The famous deposition scene is missing from the earlier 
quartos of the play, implying that the censor had removed 
it because of its "libelous analogy" to Queen Elizabeth I. 

31 Davenport, "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of Manners," 255. 

32 Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England 
(New York: Routledge, 1994), writes that while these antitheatrical 
tracts gave accounts of the functioning of the Renaissance theater, 
they also exposed the writers' own ideological productions. One 
author, a preacher, identifies the theater as an anti-religious 
institution that destroys the social fabric. However, his primary 
concern is for an audience that had the choice of the theater or church 
on Sunday. While these antitheatrical tracts assault the theater, the 
authors' own interests emerge regarding their desire to retain some 
form of power within the social status quo. 

33 Gurr, in Playgoing in Shakespeare' s London, suggests that education, 
social, and political allegiances, and many other factors had a bearing 
on what type of play was written for each playhouse, thereby reflecting 
to some degree the poets' and actors' expectations of their audiences. 
See especially Chapter 4 . 


Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare' s London. See especially Chapter 5. 


It seems likely that this play gave Elizabeth reason to 
believe she was being compared to Richard II, placing 
Shakespeare's company in great jeopardy before they were 
ultimately exonerated. 35 As a result of censorship, Ben 
Jonson was incarcerated, along with his collaborators 
Chapman and Marston, for his critique of King James's 
"notorious practice of selling knighthoods for thirty 
pounds," 36 for a pointed barb aimed at the King's Scottish 
accent, and for a critique of James's plan to unite 
Scotland and England. 37 This was not the first time Jonson 
had been censored and imprisoned. Eight years earlier, he 
found himself in a similar situation for the material in 
his Isle of Dogs. 

Boy companies felt the eyes of monarchical vigilance 
as well. Famous for their railing against "upstart" 
citizens, nobility, and civic and religious authorities, 
boy companies had seen a run of popularity, playing in the 
private theaters within the city limits. When the private 
theaters were closed for almost ten years, the play-boys 
were silenced. In 1598, however, they were permitted to 
resume performing, 38 but the license the young actors 

35 David Bevington, introduction, The Tragedy of King Richard the 
Second, 757. 

36 David Riggs, Ben Jonson: A Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1989) 

37 Riggs, Ben Jonson: A Life, 122-23. 

38 Bevington, introduction, As You Like It, 358. 


enjoyed was ultimately curtailed when, in 1613, an adult 
company absorbed the last surviving children's troupe. By 
this time, James was favoring the court masque, one reason 
perhaps for the demise of the children's companies. 39 More 
than likely, too, the boy players' unrestrained ridicule 
stepped on too many noble and royal toes. By the time of 
Charles I's accession, plays were politically charged and 
hostile toward the frivolous nature of the court and the 
King's inattention to the grievances of his loyal country 
constituency. 40 The professional stage became the venue 
from which dramatists expressed their and, perhaps in large 
measure, their paying audience's growing discontent with 
their monarch. 

At the same time that playwrights were dramatizing 
political grievances, the religious moralists and 
antitheatricalists in general were churning out 
publications filled with disdain for the theater. 41 While 
the Elizabethan government found the bifurcation of the 

39 Michael Shapiro, Children of the Revels: The Boy Companies of 
Shakespeare's Times and Their Plays (New York: Columbia UP, 1977). See 
especially Chapter 1. 

40 Martin Butler, Theatre and Crisis: 1632-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge 
UP, 1984). See especially Chapter 10. 

41 These antitheatrical texts were representative of only one viewpoint. 
As Davenport, in "Elizabethan England's Other Reformation of Manners," 
cautions, "If a host of theologians and ministers were ready to 
disallow a custom for its pagan connections or unsavory character, 
others could appeal to tradition or its social utility to preserve it" 
(256). I am not suggesting that there weren't as many proponents of 
the theater as detractors. I am referencing antitheatrical literature 
to elucidate the connection between the feminized and inferiorized 
regarding both the theater and a woman's body. 


religious and the dramatic expedient, writers like William 
Prynne could not achieve such a rupture. The marginalia of 
his exhaustive antitheatrical polemic Histriomastix spill 
over with biblical references to support his argument that 
the theater is effeminate and immoral. Additionally, 
Prynne utilizes classical authorities to support his 
Christian stand. In regard to the feminine nature of the 
theater, Prynne' s argument reads as follows: 

That whose very action is 
effeminate, must needs be unlawfull 
unto Christians. 

But the very action of Stage- 
playes is effeminate. 

Therefore, it musts needs be 
unlawfull unto Christians. 42 

In particular, the theater is effeminizing as well as 

effeminate because boy actors are transformed into the 

"very habit and order of Strumpets, to the great injury and 

dishonour of their age and sexe: a thing which Moses doth 

much condemne." 43 Classical writers, Prynne says, contend 


in all scenicall arts. . . there is 
plainely the patronage of Bacchus and 
Venus which are peculiarly proper to 
the Stage. From the gesture and 
flexure of the body, they sacrifice 
effeminacy to Venus and Bacchus; the 
one of them being effeminate by her 
sexe, the other by his flux, etc. 44 



William Prynne, Histriomastix (London, 1633) 168. 
Prynne, Histriomastix, 168. 

44 Prynne, Histriomastix, 168 


Added to this wicked behavior, says Prynne, 

Another equall wickednesse is super- 
added. A man enfeebled in all his 
joynts, resolved into a more than 
womanish effeminancy, whose art is to 
speake with his hands and gestures, 
come forth upon the Stage: and for this 
one, I know not whom, neither man nor 
woman, the whole Citie flocke together, 
that so the fabulous lusts of antiquity 
may be acted. 45 

Prynne cites further examples of the depravity that results 

from boys being trained to impersonate women, how a "male 

might be effeminated into a female" through attire and 

gestures, gestures which are "most unchaste" simply because 

they are performed and ultimately because they "provoke 

lust." 46 Even though in one example Prynne discusses a boy 

actor who impersonates a "tender virgin," the boy's 

gestures continue to be "abominable." 47 Prynne asserts that 

all feminine and feminizing gestures are tantalizing to 

men. Therefore, a boy actor playing a virgin is branded a 

"whore" through his feminine gestures. 

As Sue-Ellen Case demonstrates, the "female body had 

become the site for sexuality" 48 when the medieval Catholic 

Church banned women from the stage to prevent the theater 

45 Prynne, Histriomastix, 168 


Prynne, Histriomastix, 169. 

47 Prynne, Histriomastix, 169. 


Sue-Ellen Case, Feminism and Theatre (New York: Methuen, 1988) 20. 


from becoming the "site for immoral sexual conduct." 49 Once 
young boys became highly skilled in representing the female 
body, 50 the very mimesis of that body became the material 
site of an uncontrolled eroticism, the object of derision 
and censure, and the locus upon which to inscribe a 
powerful ideology that positioned women as the physically, 
morally, and intellectually inferior gender. I will argue 
below that feminine gesturology in both early modern drama 
and in conduct books for women resurrects and reinscribes 
an age-old notion of the female body as inferior in every 


Case, Feminism and Theatre, 20. 

50 While a twentieth-century audience may have difficulty understanding 
how an early modern audience could accept such a mimesis, Stephen 
Orgel, in Impersonations: The Performance of Gender in Shakespeare's 
England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996), suggests, "Whether boys are 
thought to look like women or not depends on how society constructs the 
norm of womanliness; clearly it is in our interests to view boys as 
versions of men, but the Renaissance equally clearly sought the 
similitude in boys and women" (70) . 


Prior to the theater's closing in London, vituperative 

antitheatrical discourse was being disseminated in street 

tracts, in sermons preached from the pulpit, 1 and in books 

like Prynne's Histriomastix. As mentioned above, a good 

deal of this discourse denounced the theater for feminizing 

its young play-boys and for emasculating its male 

spectators. Cross-dressed boy actors, the polemicists 

insisted, were arousing sexual desire in the male 

spectators who were, in turn, enfeebled and transformed 

into women since they lost control of their sexual desire 

as they lusted after the ensnaring female characters. 

As Levine and Orgel have suggested, men were becoming 

anxious over cross-dressing and its ability to either 

feminize and disempower them or to accomplish the inverse 

in women. 2 The fear of emasculation was nothing new in the 

According to the antitheatrical polemicist Stephen Gosson, in Playes 
Confuted in Five Actions (London, 1582), the "abhominable practices of 
playes m London haue bene by godly preachers, both at Paules cross, 
and else where, so zealously, so learnedly, so loudly cried out upon" 
(2) that no one has heard the words for hearing them so frequently. 

2 Laura Levine, in Men in Women's Clothing: Antitheatricality and 
Effeminization, 1579 to 1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP: 1994) 
convincingly argues that much of the antitheatrical rhetoric prevalent 
during the early modern period was driven by a male anxiety that boys 



Renaissance and finds its roots in medieval theology. 
Margaret Hallissy writes that because celibacy was 
considered a "higher estate," connubial sexual intercouse 
was practiced by those considered incapable of "rational 
control over a bodily part." 3 The theory continued that 
women arouse men, making them inferior, and emasculating 
them. Augustine states, "I know nothing which brings the 
manly mind down from the height more than a woman's 
caresses." 4 Stephen Orgel concludes that the foremost fear 
articulated by antitheatrical writers, such as William 
Prynne, John Rainolds, and Philip Stubbes, was the "fear of 
a universal ef feminization. " 5 Because the theater, like a 
woman's body or its mere representation, aroused men's 
sexuality, it had to be contained and controlled. 

and men playing the parts of women would entice male spectators, 
causing them to lust and to be effeminized. Stephen Orgel, in 
Impersonations, carries Levine's argument beyond the theater, positing 
that such behavior was culturally ubiquitous. Women, too, through 
their dress and comportment, could become men, subjects instead of 
objects, posing a threat to a male-dominated society. Richard 
Brathwaite, in The English Gentlewoman (London, 1631), suggests that 
sloth or sensuality turns men into women, women into beasts, and beasts 
into monsters. See also Mary Beth Rose. "Women in Men's Clothing: 
Apparel and Social Stability in The Roaring Girl." English Literary 
Renaissance, 14 (1984), 139-51. 

3 Margaret Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows: 
Chaucer's Women and Medieval Codes of Conduct (Westport, CT: Greenwood 
P, 1993) 13. 

Qtd. in Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 13. 
5 Orgel, Impersonations, 29. 


Although Prynne's compendious text is the longest 

antitheatrical polemic, it is not the first, nor the last, 

of its kind. Stephen Gosson, previously a writer and 

defender of plays, has been "cured" of the theater, much 

like his antitheatricalist predecessor Plato, 6 and now 

perceives drama as the devil's work. The theater, Gosson 

argues, should not be "suffred in a christian com[m]on 

weale." 7 In Playes Confuted in Five Actions (1582), the 

last of his three antitheatrical tracts, Gosson attacks the 

players for wearing women's clothes and for utilizing 

feminine gestures. He rehearses the well-worn argument 

from Deuteronomy regarding cross-dressing: 

The Law of God very straightly forbids 
men to put on wome[n]s garments, 
garments are set downe for signes 
distinctiue betwene sexe & sexe, to 
take unto us those garments that are 
manifest signes of another sexe, is to 
falsifie, forge, and adulterate, 
contrarie to the expresse rule of the 
words of God. 8 

Gosson continues by attacking players in regard to their 
feminizing gestures: 

3 Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: U of California 
P, 1981) . Barish says Plato had an "early passionate apprenticeship" 
to the theater but was dissuaded from this attachment to drama "by the 
teaching of Socrates" (5) . 

Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4. 

8 Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4. 


All that do so [cross-dress] are 
abhomination un[to] the Lord, which way 
I beseech you shall they bee excused, 
that put on, not the apparrell onely, 
but the gate, the gestures, the voyce, 
the passions of a woman.... 9 

Gosson then likens the players' feminine gestures to the 
"windinge of a snake," 10 employing an oblique reference to 
the Garden of Eden, conflating the theater with the female 
body. Because the theater is feminine, Gosson reasons, it 
is lewd and evil. Like a disorderly woman, it is a 
potential threat to the gendered hierarchy. If enclosure 
into a theaterhouse has not sufficiently suppressed drama, 
then firmer measures must be taken. History proves this to 
be the case in 1642. 

Because gesture was deployed, along with costumes, to 
transform a young boy actor into a female character, it 
became a target for antitheatrical attacks. Gesture, 11 like 
language, Gosson opines, must be used honestly: 

Let us therefore consider what a lye 
is, a lye acte executed where it 
ought not. This acte is discerned by 
outward signes, euery man must show 
himself outwardly to be such as in deed 

9 Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4. 

10 Gosson, Playes Confuted in Five Actions, 4. 

11 I will be relying on John P. Hermann's definition of gesture, in 
"Gesture and Seduction in Troilus and Criseyde, " in Chaucer's Troilus & 
Criseyde, ed. R. A. Shoaf (Binghamton: Medieval & Renaissance Tests & 
Studies, 1992) 138-160. Hermann defines gesture as "any expressive 
bodily sign, such as a change in bodily position, a movement of the 
body, a change in hue, or even a sign" (139) . 


he is. Outward signes consist eyther 
in words or gestures, to declare our 
selues by wordes or by gestures to be 
otherwise then we are, is an act 
executed where it should not, therefore 
a lye. 12 

Gesture both on and off the boards was taken seriously, as 
Gosson points out, so seriously that, if gestures do not 
represent a person's inner self, then such behavior is 

John Rainoldes, in 2" Hoverthrow of Stage-Playes 
(1599), continues to tear at the already threadbare concept 
of the "abominable evill in Gods sight" of men in women's 
clothing. Cross-dressing incites "sparkles of lust" in men 
and "may kindle in vncleane affections." 13 Like Gosson 
before him, Rainoldes perceives all feminizing gestures to 
be lascivious. It is bad enough that young men "come 
foorth in hoores attire, like the lewde woman in Proverbs," 
but it is worse to teach them "to counterfeit her actions, 
her wanton kisse, her impudent face, her wicked speeches 
and enticements." 14 

Again, all dramatic representations of woman fall into 
the single category of "whore"; therefore, all feminine 

12 Gosson, "The 3 Action," Playes Confuted in Five Actions, n. pag. 

13 John Rainoldes et al., Th' overthrow of Stage-Playes (1599; New York: 
Garland, 1974) 11. 


Rainoldes, Th' overthrow of Stage-Playes, 17 


gesturology is wanton and demeaning. As Jonas Barish 

reminds us, representation or imitation has been an axe 

initially ground by Plato and re-whetted by Renaissance 

antitheatricalists. Barish writes, 

Consideration of the antitheatrical 
prejudice must begin with Plato, who 
first articulated it, and to whom its 
later exponents regularly return in 
support of their proscriptions and 
prohibitions. 15 

Socrates believed that imitation was the "bringing into 

being of an inferior world," 16 a concept he taught Plato. 

Following the voice of antiquity, early modern 

antitheatricalists easily conflated the inferior, imitative 

theater with the second-rate, mimetic woman's body. As 

contemporary medical treatises avowed, in spite of new 

scientific findings, a woman's body was substandard, a poor 

copy of her male counterpart's perfect body. 17 


Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 5, 

16 Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 6. 

Thomas Laqueur, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud 
(Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990). Laqueur speaks of the "one-flesh model" 
that existed from classical antiquity to the end of the seventeenth 
century. Laqueur says women were perceived as "men turned outside in" 
(4) and were, therefore, considered inferior imitations of men. 


What is more, Plato 18 and his early modern successors 

believed that this imitative gesturology was dangerous for 

the young actors, for after 

much meditation of sundry dayes and 
weekes, by often repetition and 
representation of the partes, shall as 
it were engraue the things in their 
minde with a penne of iron, or with the 
point of a diamond. 19 

Of interest in Rainoldes' argument is the concept that 

gestures not only reflect the condition of one's soul, but 

they also, if imitated with perseverance, transform one's 

soul. This idea that one's imagination could transform 

one's inner being was the basis of Plato's extreme censure 

of the theater. Of Plato, Edgar Wind writes, "Hence he 

found miming a most perilous exercise, and he devised 

curious laws that would prohibit the miming of extravagant 

or evil characters." 20 This, I believe, is the crux of 

early modern thinking in regard to feminine gesturology and 

its performance. Although Rainoldes and his coevals argue 

that one's outward material gestures reflect one's inward 

spiritual essence, they believe and fear the "truth" taught 

18 Barish, in The Antitheatrical Prejudice, writes that Plato believed 
actors should only imitate "suitable" models, a paradigm that did not 
include women, slaves, villains, madmen, tradesmen, etc. (21). 

19 Rainoldes, Th' overthrow of Stage-Playes, 19. 


Qtd. in Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 30. 


them by the ancients that one's outward significations are 
capable of altering one's inner soul. While Plato's bias 
was toward the imagination, the early modern moralists 
directed their tendentious argument at the feminine. 

As I will discuss below, the notion of one's gestures 
being constitutive of one's moral fiber, of one's soul, 
becomes a crucial issue in regard to women and the conduct 
books written for and about them. This soul is similar in 
nature to the Foucaudian modern soul 21 that is constructed 
through one's trained, repetitive behavior. For the 
writers of conduct books, gestures become the sine qua non 
for the expression of a woman's inner self because conduct 
books continually admonish her to keep silent. 
Additionally, and I believe of far greater consequence, 
gestures, more than attire, become the material that 
fabricates the passive feminine soul and, thereby, 
constructs a woman's docile body. 

Like the antitheatrical treatises, conduct books for 
women warn against the evils of the theater. Women, these 
texts tell us, "take lesse pleasure at a Sermon then at a 
Comedy; they go rather to heare a Buffon, then a 

21 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 
trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979). 


Preacher." 22 Since the Church was one of the primary 

institutions utilized to control women, it became 

problematic when they began to attend the theater for two 

reasons. First, they were seeing representations of women 

on stage who appeared to have a measure of freedom not 

normative for the early modern woman, especially women like 

Moll Frith, in Dekker and Middleton' s The Roaring Girl, who 

dressed like a man and circulated freely within her world 

of pickpockets and prostitutes. 23 Second, until James 

banned Sunday performances, women were attending theater 

performances instead of going to church services. 24 Not 

only was church doctrine regarding the "place" of women 

being eroded, but the hearing of it was also being avoided. 

As Barish succinctly puts it, the mimesis of drama 

threatened long-established institutional structures: 

By the closeness of the imitative 
process, in which it mimes the actual 
unfolding of events in time, before the 

22 Jacques DuBosc, "Of Reading," The Compleat Woman, (London: 1639) 15. 
I give the chapter title here and following since the pagination of the 
text is irregular and not always continuous from chapter to chapter. 

23 Stephen Orgel, in Impersonations, argues, however, that this would 
not be a real strategem for upper- and middle-class women regarding the 
crossing of gender boundaries. More than likely, Moll represents 
lower-class women who oftentimes cross-dressed as a means to gain 
employment in jobs that were, for the most part, occupied by men. 

24 Martin Butler, Theater and Crisis: 1632-1642 (Cambridge: Cambridge 
UP, 1984). Butler writes that James forbade playing in non-courtly 
theaters on Sundays in response to the objections raised by the 
Puritans who were not against the theater but against its competing 
with Sunday church services. 


spectators' eyes, it has an unsettling 
way of being received by its 
audiences. reality pure and simple. 
As such, it implicitly constitutes a 
standing threat to the primacy of the 
reality propounded from lecturn and 
pulpit. 25 

Jean E. Howard suggests that the stage not only affirmed 

the dominant ideology but that it also cleared space for 

marginalized groups, becoming the site of cultural 

contestation. Both reaffirming and subversive, the diverse 

nature of the theater reflected contesting ideologies whose 

struggle for power is located both in the production itself 

and also in the audience. Howard argues that the theater 

did not simply reaffirm masculine and aristocratic power 

any more than it facilely served as a subversive site of 

that power. Its diverse nature encouraged discourse that 

at once harmonized diversity and exposed particular 

ideological interests while opening a gap to create new 

subject positions. 26 

Ania Loomba suggests that in Renaissance drama, the 

view of a stable, homogeneous patriarchal establishment is 

problematized by the lack of closure found in the plays. 

This sense of chaos and resistance to the dominant ideology 


Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice, 79. 

26 Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England 
(New York: Routledge, 1994) . 


is reflected in the portrayal of the disobedient or 
problematic woman. Yet, she believes this view of woman is 
far from consistent, further problematizing the supposed 
patriarchal hegemony. Moreover, that hegemony is called 
into question through the female characters' antagonism 
toward it and through the resultant conflicts. While on 
the one hand, these texts appear to emphasize the 
consolidation of patriarchy; on the other hand, they do not 
provide an adequate closure to confirm such authority. 
Loombia examines the disobedient or disorderly woman in 
Jacobean tragedies. In this genre, although women do 
subvert the dominant ideology in various ways, they are 
almost always punished for their disobedience, often 
through torture and death. 

With the many social changes affecting early modern 
Europe, it was important that the concept of a stable, 
unmoving society be more deeply inscribed in the minds of 
the people. Most particularly, in light of the changing 
social hierarchy, the position of women needed to be 
redefined in texts from religious tracts to conduct books 
to literature. 27 Perhaps this is another reason why conduct 
books were appearing in such large numbers during the same 

27 Ania Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama (Delhi: Oxford UP, 
1992) . 


time commercial theater was reaching its zenith in 
popularity. Women, Andrew Gurr believes, would have been 
no less affected by their audience participation in the 
theater than their male counterparts as they saw both 
dominant and emergent ideologies played out in front of 
them. 28 This, of course, was a concern of the Puritan 
theologians as they penned their antitheatrical tracts. 

Gurr discusses the many complicating factors that 
contribute to the appraisal of what he terms a 
"Shakespearean" audience that covers a seventy-five-year 
period from 1567, when the first amphitheater playhouse was 
built, to 1642, when the theaters were closed. While 
research has given us an understanding of the material 
circumstances surrounding the performance of a text, it has 
not uncovered the interaction between player and playgoer. 
The receivers of a performance text, Gurr argues, are an 
important ingredient of the "mechanism of transmission" 29 of 
that text. Therefore, he says, knowledge of the audiences 
will augment our knowledge of Shakespearean dramaturgy. As 
each new wave of criticism approaches an understanding of 
the early modern audience, new information comes to light 

28 Andrew Gurr, introduction, Playgoing in Shakespeare' s London 
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1987). 


Gurr, Playgoing in Shakespeare' s London, 3. 


in regard to the material and ideological circumstances 
that surround the early modern audience. 

Through my study of early modern conduct books for 
women, I have discovered an apparent correlation between 
the instructions women received in regard to their bodily 
comportment and the feminine gesturology female characters 
deployed on the stage. As Gurr writes, the social and 
mental composition of an audience varied greatly within the 
period he addresses. He does add, however, that, while the 
Shakespearean audience included persons ranging from the 
nobility to the destitute, the rising middle classes, 
ranging from urban artisans to scriveners and clergy, 
comprised a large portion of the Shakespearean audience. 
The women of the middle classes seem to be the object of 
discussion for the conduct book writers, and as Gurr 
writes, it appears that citizens' wives attended the 
theater regularly where they would have had the opportunity 
to view male-constructed representations of women. How 
representative of, or subversion of, the dominant ideology 
they are remains open to question. Ultimately, I find them 

While conduct books admonish women to stay indoors to 
avoid attending the theater, they also instruct them to 
eschew almost every other social function that takes them 


away from their domestic duties. Like the theater, 
feminized bodies must be enclosed and controlled. 30 These 
texts find their roots in medieval courtesy books which 
themselves are based on the writings of the early Church 
fathers and classical authors and were "written by men for 
the women under their authority, circulating to other men 
for their use in guiding the women of their households." 31 
They find further strength from the Reformation, which 
relied heavily on the reading of scripture, a scripture 
written by and about the patriarchy. On the practical 
side, if a woman did not choose a life of celibacy in a 
convent, then her only other option to economic security 
was marriage, since marriage was still the only ground upon 
which a woman could achieve any measure of accomplishment. 32 
A woman, therefore, needed to be socialized appropriately 
if her father was to succeed in securing her a husband. 

On the ideological side, however, these conduct books 
could have been written to maintain a gendered hierarchy of 
social, political, and economic domination. During the 

I follow Loomba's argument in Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama. I see 
the enclosure of a woman's body analagous to that of the theater. As 
Loomba argues, a woman's mobility and duplicity became a threat to the 
status quo, as was the case with the theater. As I have shown in my 
introduction, the theater became "housed" much like the ideal wife of 
the conduct books. 

31 Margaret Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 19. 


Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, li 


fourteenth century, some women were beginning to achieve a 
measure of independent financial success, especially those 
who owned a business or worked at a trade in an urban 
center. No longer reliant upon the land, or the husband 
who had owned it, a woman could have seen the opportunity 
to become economically successful on her own. Yet, 
Shulamith Shahar wonders whether women were aware of their 
inferior position in society, whether they responded to 
that status, and, if so, how. There seems to be no 
evidence of a woman's movement. Moreover, since women 
wrote very little and our knowledge of their lives is 
largely from indirect sources, it is difficult to know 
whether any significant rebellions against their 
subordinate status took place. 33 

Caroline Walker Bynum writes that misogyny in the 
later Middle Ages was evidenced in theological, 
philosophical, and scientific theory and incorporated in 
male/female binary oppositions such as intellect/body, 
active/passive, rational/irrational, etc. 34 Although 

33 Shulamith Shahar, The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the Middle 
Ages, trans. Chaya Galai (London: Routledge, 1983). See especially 
Chapter 1 . 

34 Julia 0' Faolain and Lauro Martines, ed., Wot in God's Image (New 
York: Harper and Row, 1973); Vern L. Bullough, "Medieval Medical and 
Scientific Views of Women," Viator 4 (1973): 487-93; and Eleanor C. 
McLaughlin, "Equality of Souls, Inequality of Sexes: Women in Medieval 
Theology," in Religion and Sexism: Images of Women in the Jewish and 


aristocratic women were capable of running estates for 
absentee husbands, and middle-class women managed 
businesses, their roles as mother and wife were demeaned 
and even ridiculed. Furthermore, as women increasingly 
became the majority of the population, their dowries were 
enlarged, deeming the birth of daughters as anything but 
fortuitous. Yet, Bynum argues against the traditional 
historical belief that women internalized their persecution 
and adopted roles of self-abnegation. She suggests that, 
alongside the misogynist images of women, positive images 
flourished, as evidenced in the worship of the Virgin Mary 
and in an increased number of women being canonized. 

There were even some instances of female clergy and 
deities and the occasional spiritual metaphors that related 
to a woman's fecundity as well as her sexual experience and 
married life. 35 However, as Bynum points out, these female 
spiritual models were, in large measure, developed by men, 
a conclusion drawn by Weinstein and Bell. 36 Bynum continues 
that women did not develop a "religious subculture" to 

Christian Traditions, ed. Rosemary Ruether (New York: Simon and 
Schuster, 1974) 213-66. 

35 Caroline Walker Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption: Essays on Gender 
and the Human Body in Medieval Religion (New York: Zone, 1992) . 

36 Donald Weinstein and Rudolph M. Bell, Saints and Society: The Two 
Worlds of Western Christendom, 1000 to 1100 (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 
1983) . 


counter misogyny; their religiosity and devotion to Christ 
increased, along with that of men. Bynum does say that, 
unlike their male counterparts, women emphasized penance, 
especially "in the form of food deprivation, self-inflicted 
suffering and an interpretation of illness as religious 
experience." 37 It would seem that these "self-inflicted" 
material practices were a means of marking a woman's body 
as inferior, an externalization of an internalized 
perception of deficiency. 

In addition, Bynum says, women's somatic experiences 
were encouraged by the clergy and used as proof against 
heretical movement while simultaneously keeping women under 
a male religious thumb. Half-starved women wouldn't have 
had much energy left to found a feminist movement, much 
less leave their cells. The practice of marking the 
external as inferior is evidenced in early modern conduct 
books where secular women are enjoined to employ 
specifically feminine gestures to inscribe themselves as 
inferior. Bynum does not support the "argument that women 
shaped their self-conception either in conformity with or 
in opposition to the misogynist image of Eve." 38 Instead, 

37 Bynum, Fragmentation, 154, 

Bynum, Fragmentation, 155, 


she envisions active religious women whose devotional lives 
were filled with visions of Christ and a belief in a 
mystical union with him. 

This union with Christ becomes a theme in early modern 
conduct books as well, but only as a reinscription of a 
family ideology in which middle-class housewives find 
themselves subsumed beneath male authority figures, both 
hallowed and human. Shahar writes that female mystics, 
while unique in regard to their elevated status and 
respect, won recognition because of their personalities, 
not as a result of their ecclesiastical rank. The Church 
may have recognized these mystics and their prophetic 
power, but it also made clear that prophecy was a gift from 
God and not a sacrament. Unlike Bynum, Shahar argues that 
female inferiority was not forgotten; women were still 
barred from the priesthood. 39 In the final instance, 
extreme bodily self-discipline 40 was a woman's sine qua non, 
her agency to the masculine, without which she was nothing. 

39 Shahar, The Fourth Estate. 


While religious men adhered to extreme forms of bodily self- 
discipline, Bynum, in Fragmentation, writes that, for men, becoming 
female and weak was a requisite to spiritual submission and a sign of 
meekness and worldly rejection. Male religious leaders and monks often 
describe themselves in feminine terms. However, men who "became" women 
considered themselves superior to a natural woman whose gender was not 
"chosen," not a sign of conversion. Women had no ability to "become" 
female and, as a result, could never fully renounce the world as their 
male counterparts could. 


Lawrence Stone believes the early modern woman was, 
more than likely, as "submissive and as dependent as the 
conduct books suggested that they ought to be." 41 Using 
records of crimes committed by women during the late 
sixteenth century, he concludes that women had a "minimal 
share" 42 in serious and violent crimes. The only areas in 
which they displayed resistance were in partaking in food 
riots or displaying "dissident religious opinions." 43 While 
it appears that wives lost status during the sixteenth and 
early seventeenth centuries, it is not entirely clear why. 
Perhaps, as Stone suggests, the creation of the nuclear 
family simultaneously gave the husband more concentrated 
power and took from the wife a measure of protection she 
may have been afforded as part of an extended family 
environment . 44 

What's more, once Henry VIII broke with the Roman 
Catholic Church, confiscated its holdings, and closed the 
abbeys and nunneries, even women of means were left with 
little option other than marriage since the alternative 

41 Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. 
Abridged Edition. New York: Harper, 1979, 141. 

42 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 141. 

43 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 141. 

44 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 141. 


life of a cloistered, devout virgin dissolved, along with 

Henry's first marriage. Lawrence Stone comments, 

Many, but by no means all, of these 
[upper-class] girls probably found the 
religious life a satisfying alternative 
career to an arranged marriage. For 
those women who sought power, the life 
of an abbess was clearly preferable 
even to that of an aristocratic wife. 45 

With the dissolution of convents came the abolishment of 

saint worship. This, says Lisa Jardine, "removed a moral 

support from women which went unexpectedly deep." 46 She 

quotes Natalie Davis: 

The loss of the saints affected men and 
women unequally. Reformed prayer could 
no longer be addressed to a woman, 
whereas the masculine identity of the 
Father and Son was left intact. 47 

Ian Maclean argues that, even though the Virgin Mary 

and other female saints were depicted as female exemplars, 

it "cannot be said...that such praise is to the advantage of 

the mass of women, who, by contrast with these saintly 

exceptions, remain associated with weaker reason, stronger 

passions and greater inherent vice." 48 The Virgin Mary, in 

45 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 38. 

46 Lisa Jardine, Still Harping on Daughters (Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble) 

47 Quoted in Jardine, 50. 

48 Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman (Cambridge: Cambridqe 
UP, 1980) 22. 


particular, represents an unattainable womanly ideal, for 

she is represented as a fertile and perpetual virgin who, 

although married to a man, was impregnated by God, gave 

birth without pain, and nursed not just a child but the 

Christian savior. 49 

Although the Reformation took away power from the 

Church Fathers, the Holy Father, and Catholic priests, a 

new, ever-present power now resided in the father of the 

nuclear family. Lawrence Stone writes that perhaps the 

most significant result of the Reformation was a new 

emphasis on the household which became the 

inheritor of many of the 
responsibilities of the parish and the 
Church; the family head was the 
inheritor of much of the authority and 
many of the powers of the priest. 50 

While Keith Wrightson' s picture of the nuclear family 

attempts to modify the "stereotype of marital relations" 51 

in which male authority seems a given and which is espoused 

in conduct books of the day, he does conclude, however: 

49 For the summary, I have utilized material from St. Peter Canisius' 
work De Maria Virgine incomparabili (1577), quoted by Maclean in The 
Renaissance Notion of Woman. Maclean further comments that Mary is, in 
fact, "not of her sex," exempt as she is "from all female vice and 
imperfection" and "so remote... from others of her sex" (23) . 

50 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 104. 

51 Keith Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680 (New Brunswick: Rutgers 
UP, 1982) 92. 


In the domestic economy, decision- 
making, conflict resolution and sexual 
behaviour, mutuality in marriage, 
within a context of ultimate male 
authority, may well have been not only 
the conjugal ideal, but also the common 
practice among the English people as a 
whole. 52 

This curtailment of women's freedom surfaces in 
medieval drama as well, perhaps reflecting a rising anxiety 
about the unusual status female religious figures had been 
granted. As Shahar writes, by the twelfth century, the 
belief in the Virgin Mary as Holy Mother and mediator 
between Heaven and earth was elaborated on from a fifth- 
century doctrine. Along with the Virgin Mary, Mary 
Magdalene was worshipped and claimed by Abelard to be a 
heavenly mediator as well. Even though the virgin nun was 
elevated in the eyes of the Church, she was not permitted 
to hold any ecclesiastical office or to perform any 
ceremonial duties. 53 This paradox of the venerated and 
contained is evident, for example, in the titular heroine 
of the Digby "Mary Magdelene" who is depicted in the drama 
from her containment in a patrimonial household to her 
period of sexual incontinence and, finally, to her 
spiritual conversion. Ultimately she enters heaven where 

52 Wrightson, English Society 1580-1680, 100. 

53 Shahar, The Fourth Estate. See especially Chapter 3. 


she returns to another sort of domestic containment under 
the Father of all fathers. 

A similar sense of enclosure is evident in pictorial 
representations of the Virgin Mary. Margaret Hallissy, in 
discussing the "sharp differentiation between male and 
female uses of space," 54 believes that while enclosure could 
have been valuable and positive for both sexes, it was the 
men who left their walled-in homes and communities to "have 
adventures and return triumphant." 55 Wandering women were 
considered immoral; and Chaucer's Wife of Bath is the 
quintessential example of this as the perambulating, five- 
time widow. Her antithesis, the Virgin Mary is invariably 
depicted, both in literature and the visual arts, in an 
enclosed space during the Annunciation scene. In a 
fifteenth-century pictorial image, "Mary's modesty is 
further stressed by her gesturing hand, lifted in warning 
against the intruding stranger [Gabriel]. 56 

Saints and sinners alike, women had to be contained. 
In the Digby "Killing of the Children," the mothers of the 
babies being slaughtered by Herod and his soldiers rebel, 
beating the infanticides with their distaffs. Not 

54 Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 96. 

55 Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 96. 

56 Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, 96. 


surprisingly, the disorderly women are quelled and forced 
to return to their domiciles. Both Digby plays succeed in 
"rehabilitating" women and returning them to their domestic 
spheres. In the Wakefield Noah play, a wife once more 
rebels against her enclosure. In this case, Noah's wife is 
depicted as a shrew as she continues to work on her 
spinning wheel while refusing to enter the ark. 57 At last 
Noah's wife, like the animals that preceded her, is whipped 
and herded into the ark by Noah, 58 one of God's handfuls of 
righteous diluvian survivors. 

As demonstrated above with the visual image of the 
Virgin Mary, perhaps even more can be learned about the 
representation of the medieval woman by applying some of 
the general principles of the visual composition of the 
Middle Ages to its drama. Pamela Sheingorn believes one 

Interestingly, both needlework and domestic containment are constant 
themes in the various early modern discourses, most specifically the 
male-authored conduct books for women. In fact, one book containing 
needlework patterns was written by a man. Suzanne W. Hull discusses 
this phenomenon in Chaste, Silent & Obedient (San Marino: Huntington 
Library, 1982) . See also Joan Larsen Klein, Daughters, Wives, and 
Widows: Writings by Men about Women and Marriage in England, 1500-1640 
(Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1992). Edmund Tilney, in The Flower of 
Friendship (London, 1568), writes that a wife is "not to sit alwayes 
ydle;" she must occupy herself with her household duties "even in 
thinges of least importaunce, " keeping busy "as with hir needle, and 
rocke [needlework and spinning]" (137). 

1 The concept of treating a wife like a domesticated beast is a theme 
that extends itself into early modern conduct books. William Whately, 
in A Bride-Bush (London, 1617), writes, "Wee prouender an horse as well 
as whip and spurre him, else the best would tyre: and the wife must bee 
animated to good things, and not onely withdrawne from euill" (35) . 


can gain an understanding of how these principles might 
have governed the medieval stage picture presented to its 
audience by deploying them in a study of that period's 
drama. While artistic images changed during the period 500 
to 1500, these were not large-scale alterations; and this 
period was governed by an "umbrella convention" that 
utilized form to communicate content not only for the 
artist but also for the dramatist. As a result, medieval 
artists and playwrights employed similar visual conventions 
to communicate a message to the viewer. 59 What is key here 
is that, like early modern drama, its medieval counterpart 
relied on theatrical iconography and convention to 
communicate a message. While histrionic representations 
are not genuine depictions of "real-life" persons, they do 
provide information about the cultural codes from which a 
playwright drew. Through their own conventions, dramas and 
portraits suggest something about their society's dominant 
ideology and the subjects it has interpellated. 

From her study of gestures associated with the elbow 
from the late fifteenth to seventeenth centuries in 

59 Pamela Sheingorn, "The Visual Language of Drama," in Contexts for 
Early English Drama, ed. Marianne G. Briscoe and John C. Coldewey 
(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989) 173-191. While Sheingorn' s emphasis is 
on size and proximity of characters, her study does point to the 
importance of artistic convention and how that tradition can be used to 
read a period's drama. 


Renaissance portraiture, Joaneath Spicer believes she is 
able to ascertain something of the subject's degree of 
political power. Portraits, she argues, draw from a code 
of conduct deployed in everyday life. Just as the early 
modern playwright and actor used gesture to communicate a 
message to the audience, so did the portrait artist. Like 
the painter, the playwright relied on certain conventions 
that have been gathered and "distilled" from daily 
experience and which convey an unspoken meaning to the 
viewer. 60 Gestures, Spicer writes, "will usually represent 
a distillation of generally accepted societal codes which 
rise out of collective experience — otherwise they wouldn't 
be recognized — and which convey an impression which the 
sitter is content to give off, seen through the prism of 
the individual artist's aesthetic sensibilities." 61 In her 
study of western European art, Spicer notices that certain 
body posturing, enhanced by an arm akimbo, is the language 
of self-possession especially when other figures in the 
same painting are utilizing subordinate body language. 
This language of self-possession asserts a sense of 
territoriality as well as physical and social authority. 

60 Joaneath Spicer, "The Renaissance Elbow" in A Cultural History of 
Gesture, ed. Jan Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg (Ithaca: Cornell UP) 84- 


Spicer, "The Renaissance Elbow," 85. 


From the many portraits Spicer has investigated, almost all 
of the men she found posing with the "Renaissance elbow" 
were either socially and/or militaristically powerful. 
While she has found portraits of Queen Elizabeth I with her 
arm akimbo, this is, of course, the exception and was not 
considered an "appropriate gesture for middle-class women 
of good standing." 62 

The notion of a woman comporting her body with 
restraint to avoid "speaking" power through body language 
is evident in early modern portraiture much as it is in 
conduct books for women. Marriage portraits seem to bear 
this out where masculine posturing expresses dominance and 
possession, e.g., the husband's arm resting atop his wife's 
shoulder, and feminine gesturology signals passive 
obedience, e.g., the wife's eyes averted from the viewer. 
Spicer wonders whether some of the work she has 
interrogated shows the purposeful inscription of a bodily 
comportment that suggests an anxiety on the part of the 
dominant in regard to their retention of their power. 
Similarly, I wonder if the signs of early modern English 
women becoming more assertive bred an anxiety in those 
holding power, urging them to write conduct books and 
dramas that represented women employing a passive bodily 

62 Spicer, "The Renaissance Elbow," 100. 


comportment, a comportment that reinscribes their bodies as 
naturally inferior. 

In early modern drama, much of what appeared in a 
performance was informed by theatrical convention that 
presupposed a tacit and sometimes unconscious agreement 
among the playwright, the actors, and the audience. 
Gesture was, therefore, a significant constituent of the 
methodology that communicated meaning between the 
performers and the spectators. Gestures, both on the 
boards and off, helped establish one's position in the 
social hierarchy and were as traditional as sartorial 

Alan C. Dessen points out that a modern-day audience, 
whether at a live performance or in a movie theater, also 
abides by certain conventions. Often, spectators see only 
a portion of a scene, yet they accept the fact that the 
action has begun earlier and will continue in their 
absence. However, because twentieth-century spectators are 
accustomed to a "realistic" approach to representation, 
they attempt to employ a sense of verisimilitude when 
reading or observing Elizabethan dramas. 63 David Bevington 
says that today's audience members may have difficulty 


Alan C. Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions and Modern Interpreters 
(Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1984) 11. 


"seeing" the way Shakespeare's spectators saw because 
modern eyes are trained for viewing films in which 
characters are surrounded by a "fully supplied landscape."' 
Dessen argues that a Shakespearean audience accepted 
conventions that a twentieth-century audience would 
consider "odd, illogical, or intrusive." 65 Both Bevington 
and Dessen believe that if readers can begin to understand 
these earlier conventions regarding the performance text, 
they will be able to appreciate more fully the literary 
text. Additionally, they will gain some insight into what 
Keir Elam terms the "performer-audience transaction" 66 that 
occurred in the early modern theater. For example, the 
physical constraints of a nascent commercialized theater 
required the audience to use their imagination a good deal 
regarding the staging of scenes. Because theatrical 
companies had a limited number of actors and no elaborate 
scenery, a battle scene, for instance, was synecdochically 
represented by a handful of soldiers. Or two actors might 
be embroiled in combat with wooden swords. Costumes, sound 
effects, dialogue, hand props, and appropriate acting 

64 David Bevington, Action is Eloquence (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984) 7. 



Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 11. 

Keir Elam, The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama (New York: Routledqe 
1980) 2. 


helped the audience imagine what could not be portrayed 
"realistically" on an open stage with limited personnel. 67 

Since only scanty accounts of audience response and 
limited pictorial evidence of Elizabethan productions 
remain, one must rely on evidence within the plays when 
examining stage conventions. Yet the surviving stage 
directions are often "murky, " and it appears that the actor 
was left to decide how he would gesture or move about the 
platform to communicate meaning to the spectator. What 
Dessen does conclude is that actors produced a "theatrical 
shorthand," using "a few clear signals" to briefly and 
concisely convey to the spectator a previous or continuing 
off-stage action. 68 Stage directions from extant texts 
indicate that a boy actor portraying a distraught woman, 
entered the stage with his/her hair loose and disheveled, 
visually signaling the audience about the character's 
madness, shame, or grief. If an actor came on stage 
wearing boots or riding apparel, the audience knew the 
characters had recently completed, or were about to embark 
on, a journey. Actors appearing "unready," "trussing" 
themselves up, or wearing nightshirts or nightcaps, quickly 


Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 33. 

68 Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 34 


apprised the spectator that it was nighttime or early 
morning. A similar effect could be achieved with the 
carrying of candles or torches. 69 

While all of this information helps both Dessen and 
Bevington establish the importance of theatrical 
conventions, it does so without addressing the ways in 
which gesture genders a performer's or character's body. 
Yet, by examining a few examples, it becomes evident that 
the containment of a woman's body is directly linked to the 
appropriateness of her behavior. Anything out of place on 
a woman's body, whether it be her hair, clothing, speech, 
or gestures, connoted a woman out of her place, a concept 
clearly articulated in the conduct books authored by men 
and addressed to women. Gesture becomes a language that 
helps one understand the way in which the early modern 
woman was positioned within her society through her 
representation on stage and in conduct books. 

Gestures can accompany speech, giving the 
interlocutor's utterance more emphasis; and they can be 
just as effective alone. Indeed, the absence of gesture 
can indicate a range of emotions as well, from humility to 
nonchalance to disinterest. Bodily comportment, including 

69 Dessen, Elizabethan Stage Conventions, 52, 


facial expressions, establishes social differentiation, 
separating persons according to race, ethnicity, social 
position, occupation, and gender. In short, gesture is an 
indispensable complement to any language. 70 For Erasmus, an 
adolescent boy could demonstrate his cultivated mind 
through his masculine posturing and adherence to a specific 
gestural code. He could, as well, appear effeminate should 
he, for example, walk with a mincing gait. 71 

Gesture as an outward manifestation of one's inward 
will became an increasingly important signifier throughout 
the reigns of Elizabeth and James. Bodily comportment 
reflected a woman's socio-economic position insofar as her 
averted glances, blushes, unfurrowed brows, and non- 
threatening posture in general demonstrated her non- 
authoritative social status and her economic dependence 
upon and passive obedience to her spouse, father, or other 
male guardian. Gestures, however trivial they may seem, 
are a self-identif icatory mechanism that implies 
fundamental differences in social position and, therefore, 
in degree of power or powerlessness . Even a blush carries 

70 Keith Thomas, introduction, A Cultural History of Gesture, ed. Jan 
Bremmer and Herman Roodenburg (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991) 1-14. 

71 Desiderius Erasmus, "On Good Manners for Boys" in the Collected Works 
of Erasmus, trans. Brian McGregor, ed. J. K. Sowards, Vol. 25 (Toronto: 
U of Toronto P, 1985) . 


with it a passive bodily comportment — head down, arms close 
to or crossed in front of the body, legs together or 
crossed—signifying a willing subjection. In fact, a blush 
does not necessarily need to appear on a woman's cheek to 
be read as such. A blush is less a coloration of the 
cheeks and more a passive bodily comportment. 

During the Early Modern Period, noblemen and 
aristocratic youths were instructed in refining their 
gestures to demonstrate their superior rank and authority, 
to mime a language of self-possession and social power. 
Women were admonished to refine their bodily movements as 
well, but with the opposite results. A woman was 
conditioned to occupy less physical space and to 
communicate with few words, if any. One conduct book says 

what is spoken of Maids, may be 
properly applyed by an vsefull 
consequence to all women: They should 
be seene, and not heard: A Travueller 
sets himselfe best out by discourse, 
whereas their [women's] best setting 
out is silence. 72 

Paradoxically, even the highly visible gestures a woman was 

to perform, helped to further inscribe not only a lack of 

power but also an invisibility onto her body. In essence, 

- Richard Brathwait, The English Gentlewoman (London, 1631) 41. 


a woman was to wear her soul, not on her sleeve, but on her 

entire body. From the averted glance of her eye to the 

abbreviated length of her gait, a woman was to silently 

demonstrate her role as "shamefast" virgin, dutiful wife, 

or eternally-mourning widow. As the physically and morally 

weaker sex, she was to comport herself with restraint and 

without the slightest suggestion of boldness, pride, or 

self-possession. Not only was a woman enclosed by the 

physical structure of her domicile, she was also 

circumscribed by her own feminine gesturology. 

I will be focusing on the early modern woman in 

England, how conduct books constructed the masculine ideal 

of that woman, and, in later chapters, how that ideal was 

further inscribed in the drama of that period through the 

use of boy actors whose "feminized" comportment drew the 

audience's attention to a woman character's inferiorized 

body and subordinated social position. In regard to 

conduct books, Ian Maclean believes that two forces may 

have been bringing about a change in society: 

the modification in social class 
divisions which brings greater mobility 
between classes and promotes the 
emergence of a social group of rich, 
leisured women below the level of court 
and salon... 

and the reflection of that change in 


courtesy books of the Renaissance, 
suggesting the development of social 
life in this new class and its theory 
and expectations of social behaviour. 73 

I refer to and focus on the woman of the middle classes, or 

what Maclean labels "this new class." I believe one of the 

main purposes of conduct books was to create a woman who 

would become the backbone of an economic system that, 

ironically, would make wives more economically dependent on 

their husbands. 74 At the same time, a woman's labor 

supported her husband' s advancement within a society that 

was beginning to allow money, not kinship, to achieve one's 

social position. Conduct books attest to this new marital 


And if it be true. ..that friendshippe 
maketh one heart of two: much more 
truly and effectually, ought wedlocke 
to do the same, which farre passeth all 
manner, both friendship and kindred. 75 

73 Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman, 88. 

74 Susan Dwyer Amussen, in "Gender, Family and Social Order," in Order 
and Disorder in Early Modern England, ed. Anthony Fletcher and John 
Stevenson (New York: Cambridge UP, 1985) 196-217, writes "wives played 
a significant role in the family economies of early modern England. In 
the kitchen, dairy and brew-house they supervised production; they sold 
their own cheese, ale and eggs in the market, where they purchased 
other necessaries for their families" (203). See also Amussen' s An 
Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modern England. Oxford: 
Basil Blackwell, 1988. 

75 Robert Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement 
(London, 1598) 216. 


The women characters in the contemporary drama, while 
ranging from royalty to peasantry, were none the less 
stereotyped by their speech, behavior, and, I will argue, 
their gestures. When I speak of a social position, I 
discuss it with the belief that it was framed within a 
masculine hierarchy in which women rarely achieved an 
individual status, almost never being recognized for their 
own achievements. As one conduct book writer succinctly 
puts it, "For Shee is Hee." 76 

Almost exclusively, women were recognized according to 

their husband's place in society. 77 If a woman married 

beneath her station, she was reduced to her husband's rank. 

If she married a man of higher social ranking, she was 

elevated in society's eyes. A man's social position could 

be elevated, too, through marriage; however, if he married 

someone beneath him, he never lost his more elevated 

position within the hierarchy. As one conduct books says, 

For the wife enioyeth the priuiledges 
of her husband, and is graced by his 
honor and estimation amongst men. His 
Nobilitie maketh her noble, though 
otherwise shee is base and meane; as 
contrariwise, his basenesse and low 
degree, causeth her, though shee bee by 


Richard Brathwaite, The Good Wife (London, 1619) n. pag. 

7 Keith Wrightson, in English Society 1580-1680 (New Brunswick, NJ: 
Rutgers UP, 1982) concludes, after studying an early modern text that 
formulated the "degrees" of people, the "status of women and children 
was assumed to follow that of their husbands and fathers..." (21) . 


birth noble and honorable, to bee by 
estate base and meane. 78 

Ruth Kelso, in her quest for the Renaissance lady, 

concludes that such a person never existed. Although many 

texts were written for and about this lady, beyond the 

theoretical treatises and 

the dedications to ladies, duchesses, 
or queens, the contents, it is scarcely 
an exaggeration to affirm, apply to the 
whole sex rather than to any favored 
section of it. The lady, shall we 
venture to say, turns out to be merely 
a wife. 79 

By gendering household responsibilities and enclosing a 

wife within her home, a woman was kept in a private world 

that disallowed her participation in the religious, 

political, economic, and educational sectors of the public 

world. 80 As one conduct book says, a woman could leave her 

home for four reasons: 

First, to come to holy meetings, 
according to the dutie of godlinesse. 

78 William Perkins, Christian Oeconomie: or, A Short Survey of the Right 
Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Familie, According to the Scriptures 
(London, 1609) 131. 

79 Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance (Urbana: U of 
Illinois P, 1956) 1. While Kelso's study focuses on texts written by 
Italian, French, English and other European writers, I would have to 
agree with her conclusion as it pertains to the English woman in the 
early modern period. 

80 Joan Kelly, "The Social Relation of the Sexes" and "Did Women Have a 
Renaissance," Women, History, and Theory (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 
1984) 1-50. Kelly discusses the crucial importance for women of the 
separation of the public and private spheres and how that bifurcation 
disallowed women to experience a "renaissance." 


The second, to visit such as stand in 
need, as the dutie of loue and charitie 
doo require. The third, for employment 
& prouision in household affaires 
committed to her charge. And lastly, 
with her husband, when hee shall 
requite her. 81 

While she most likely left her home frequently to perform 

such tasks, a woman was barred from any significant role in 

the formulation of the culture in which she existed, 

dislocated as she was from economic activity and subjugated 

to household work without remuneration. 

This separation and enclosure of the feminine body 

becomes more deeply inscribed in early modern conduct 

books, in general, and through the gestures a woman was 

directed to perform, in particular. In this regard, the 

work of Sandra Lee Bartky, who discusses the implications 

of feminine bodily comportment within a twentieth-century 

milieu, 82 is valuable for my own work. Bartky believes that 

American women, through stereotyping, cultural domination, 

and sexual objectif ication-three "special modes of psychic 

alienation" 83 -deliver "terrible messages of inferiority" 84 to 

!1 Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement, 225. 


Sandra Lee Bartky, Femininity and Domination (New York: Routledge, 
1990) . 

83 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 23. 

84 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 23. 


women, psychologically oppressing them, weighing them down 

with their own burden of a depreciated self, and, 

therefore, making them their own oppressors. Conduct books 

for the early modern woman, as I will explain in more 

detail below, establish a woman's "natural" inferiority, an 

inferiority that has existed since the beginning of time, 

most particularly the time of the Garden of Eden. 

According to Bartky: 

Even when economic and political 
obstacles on the path to autonomy are 
removed, a depreciated alter ago still 
blocks the way. It is hard enough for 
me to determine what sort of person I 
am or ought to try to become without 
being shadowed by an alternate self, a 
truncated and inferior self that I 
have, in some sense, been doomed to be 
all the time. 85 

Early modern conduct books declared this "truncated and 

inferior self" to women and inculcated them with household 

skills whose primary purpose was to increase her husband's 

economic security while at the same time immure her inside 

the home and outside of a "male supremicist culture." 86 As 

Bartky states, "However degraded or distorted an image of 

ourselves we see reflected in the patriarchal culture, the 


Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 24. 

86 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 25. 


culture of our men is still our culture." 87 This was even 
truer for the early modern woman who, because of her 
stereotypical image as an inferior creature, had almost no 
say in any aspect of her culture. Any talents she may have 
acquired were hidden behind the door of her domicile and 
dimmed in the shadow of "woman's work." 

This devaluation of a woman's labor further alienates 
a woman from herself and her body. Bartky writes, "Since 
labor is the most characteristic human life activity, to be 
alienated from one's own labor is to be estranged from 
oneself." 88 Moreover, this estranged body was objectified, 
not as the sex object of the twentieth century, but as the 
"female breeder" 89 of the early modern period. One conduct 
book writer explains, "The male is man of superior sexe, 
fit for procreation. The female is woman of an inferior 
sexe, fit to conceive and beare children." 90 The role of 
the always-deficient was not only internalized by the early 
modern woman, but it was also externalized through her 

87 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 25. 

88 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 32. 

Bartky, in Femininity and Domination, sees this as one of many female 
stereotypes she discusses. 

3 William Perkins, Christian Economy or a Short Survey of the Right 
Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Family According to the Scriptures 
(London, 1609) 24. 


bodily comportment, a comportment clearly delineated for 

her in the pages of the conduct manuals. Bartky writes, 

There are significant gender 
differences in gesture, posture, 
movement, and general bodily 
comportment: Women are far more 
restricted than men in their manner of 
movement and in their lived 
spatiality. 91 

Again, this was all the more the case for the early modern 

woman, as I will show below when I begin to discuss 

specific conduct books and the regimens within which they 

placed women. This restriction of movement began during 

childhood. Lawrence Stone writes that after the 

"swaddling" period, boys' bodies were allowed to be free 


girls were encased in bodices and 
corsets reinforced with iron and 
whalebone to ensure that their bodies 
were moulded to the prevailing adult 
fashion. Dressed in miniature adult 
clothes, they were expected to conform 
to the ideal adult feminine shape and 
carriage, and in particular to maintain 
an upright posture and to walk slowly 
and gracefully. 92 

Stone goes on to discuss how these restrictive 

undergarments caused "distortion or displacement of the 

91 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 67. 


Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 116. 


organs, and sometimes even death." 93 He cites an example of 
a young, seventeenth-century girl whose iron bodice stunted 
the growth of her lungs, broke two of her ribs, and 
obviously caused her a great deal of pain. Her severe 
bodily enclosure caused her death at the age of two. 94 

Carroll Camden describes the attire that an 
"Elizabethan lady" would put on when dressing for "an 
outing or an entertainment." 95 She would begin with either 
a heavily embroidered or lace-trimmed and a petticoat. A 
bodice, or corset, went over the smock and was stiffened 
with whale-bone or wooden stays called "busks." Some busks 
were constructed completely of iron, as was the case with 
the two-year-old child discussed above. The bodice was 
tied in place with "busk-points" or laces. These corsets 
or busks were meant to flatten a woman's stomach and 
abdomen as well as hold her breasts high. Once the corset 
was in place, a woman slipped a farthingale beneath her 
petticoat, a "device used to hold out the skirts of 
succeeding garments." 96 A farthingale, like a busk, was 

93 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 116. 

94 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 116. 

3 Carroll Camden, The Elizabethan Woman (Houston: Elsevier, 1952) 219. 
For Camden, an Elizabethan lady is a gentlewoman or the wife of a 

merchant, or a woman of the upper class and middle clas 
96 Camden, The Elizabethan Woman, 220, 

ses . 


stiffened with various different materials such as 
whalebone or wood. The point of this device was to make a 
woman's waist look small, " as if the corset hadn't already 
achieved this. Over this underclothing, a woman wore a 
kirtle or two-piece dress, beneath which she placed a 
stomacher and forepart, both accessories that filled the 
opened work in the top and bottom portions of the kirtle, 
respectively. A gown, worn open in the front, was placed 
over the kirtle. Detachable sleeves were sometimes given 
shape on a "body of wire" and were often elaborately 
decorated. Finally, a cloak could be worn over the gown or 
instead of it. Certainly, these many layers of clothing 
had a pragmatic purpose: to keep a woman's body warm. 
However, it also served to further enclose that body, 
circumscribing it with a farthingale. Furthermore, the 
message was that a woman's body was defective and needed to 
be reconstructed, 98 improved upon, by minimizing the waist, 
maximizing the hips and buttocks, and lifting up the 
breasts. It must have been difficult for a woman dressed 
like this to move about, let alone to be able to sit 

97 Camden, The Elizabethan Woman, 220-21. 

3 While men, too, "reconstructed" their bodies with enhancements in 
their codpieces, for example, these fashion "accessories" did not 
restrict their movements and cause them the physical discomfort of a 
tightly-laced corset. 


comfortably. It would seem that an early modern woman's 
mobility and carriage were inflected by her cumbersome and 
constricting attire. 

Bartky says that women seem to be surrounded by an 
invisible space beyond which they are hesitant to move. 
This invisible space is evidenced in conduct book 
illustrations depicting women seated demurely or standing, 
legs together, hands folded on laps or arms by sides. 
Observing twentieth-century women, Bartky comments, 
"Woman's body language speaks eloquently, though silently, 
of her subordinate status in a hierarchy of gender." 99 The 
feminine gesturology early modern conduct books prescribe 
for women creates a comparable yoke between a woman's 
inferior social status and her minimalized bodily 
movements. The body of the early modern woman bears the 
unmistakable signs of a psychological oppression that 
Bartky observes inscribed on the twentieth-century female 
body. As Catherine Belsey points out, 

Culture exists, in a word, as meanings. 
But the cultural meanings of man and 
woman, experienced at the level of 
consciousness, have also been lived 
precisely as material practices; not 
only as rape and violence, but as the 
slower, more tedious and more insidious 
oppression of women's bodies by regimes 


Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 74 


of beauty, by corsetry and crippling 
footwear, by marital availability, 
domestic labour and continual 
childbirth. 100 

As conduct books become more and more methodological in 

their approach, a woman's body is more deeply restrained 

with rigid injunctions to control itself through precise 

gestures and an economy of movement. 

Catherine Belsey, "A Future for Materialist Feminist Criticism?" in 
The Matter of Differnece: Materialist Feminist Criticism of 
Shakespeare, ed. Valerie Wayne (New York: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991) 


As the new ideal woman 1 was being fashioned and 

enclosed in her domicile, people, for the first time since 

the establishment of the manorial system, were dislodged 

from their "place" in the social hierarchy, creating an 

historical space crucial in regard to the social position 

of women. This space may have afforded women a voice that 

caused a male anxiety reflected in a variety of early 

modern writings, most particularly in conduct books for 

women. During the latter half of the sixteenth and first 

quarter of the seventeenth centuries, these texts, for the 

most part, were written by male religious moralists who 

1 I suggest the conduct book writers were addressing women below the 
aristocratic class, most specifically of the middle classes. This is 
in keeping with Lawrence Stone's belief, in The Family, Sex and 
Marriage in England 1500-1800, Abridged Edition (New York: Harper, 
1979), that the patriarchy was being positively reinforced at this 
level of society. He makes the disclaimer: "It cannot be proved 
conclusively that in reality the powers of fathers over children and of 
husbands over wives in the upper and middle ranks most exposed to this 
propaganda became greater than they had been in the middle ages... " 
(109). However, he says this "seems a plausible hypothesis, given the 
fact that patriarchy for its effective exercise depends not so much on 
raw power or legal authority, as on a recognition by all concerned of 
its legitimacy, allowed by ancient tradition, moral theology and 
political theory" (109). Ruth Kelso, on the other hand, in Chapter 1 
of Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 
1956), argues that knowing the addressee of the conduct book is a moot 
point since women were in a sense "classless." No matter what their 
social rank appeared to be, they were always beneath the authority of 
their husbands or some other male guardian. 



made it "naturally" evident that women — no matter what 
their class status — were expected to marry and to be 
contained by both the emerging nuclear family ideology and 
its concomitant physical structure, the "home." This new 
family unit was supported by both the Church and the State. 2 
As a microcosm within the macrocosmic Chain of Being, a 
long-standing religious hierarchy was reinforced: just as 
God was the head of the Church and its final authority, so, 
too, was the husband the head of the family, having the 
final say in all matters. As one conduct book puts it: 

Ye Wiues loue your Husbands, 

And obedient bee, 
For they are your heads, 

And aboue in degree. 3 

The State structure was supported by and reflected in 
the nuclear family as well. Here, the husband was the 
ultimate ruler over his "castle," just as the monarch was 

2 Susan D. Amussen, in "Gender, Family and the Social Order, 1560-1725,' 
in Order and Disorder in Early Modern England, eds . Anthony Fletcher 
and John Stevenson (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1985) 196-217, writes that 
both state and religious discourse draw an analogy between the well- 
governed family and a well-ordered society. However, ecclesiastical 
officials and state heads did not necessarily agree on the particulars 
of that analogy in regard to who was responsible for the "correction" 
of a wayward wife. The Puritan writers of conduct books, in 
particular, created a rather ambiguous position for the early modern 
wife: a woman who was considered her husband's equally-yoked partner 
yet a wife who was under her husband's ultimate authority. Amussen 
shows evidence of incidents of disorderly wives who obviously did not 
adhere to conduct book injunctions. However, when one looks at the 
divorce, property, and common laws of early modern England, one can 
only conclude that a woman was far from her husband's equal. 

Francis Seager, The Schoole of Vertue (London, 1582), n. 



the supreme ruler of the State. The family, according to 
one conduct book writer, "is a naturall and simple Societie 
of certaine persons, hauing mutuall relation one to 
another, vnder the priuate gouernement of one." 4 This 
second analogy, however, was a bit strained, especially 
when Mary and Elizabeth served consecutively as English 
monarchs. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for such an 
outpouring of conduct books which comprise a large body of 
texts written by men between 1475 and 1640, eighty-five 
percent of which were published after 1570. 5 The acute 
gender differentiation of the sixteenth century, Ruth Kelso 
suggests, may be a result of the renewed interest in the 
Renaissance of ancient thought. 6 Along with a return to the 

4 William Perkins, Christian Economy or a Short Survey of the Right 
Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Family According to the Scriptures 
(London, 1609) 2. 

5 Suzanne W. Hull, in Chaste, Silent & Obedient (San Marino: Huntington 
Library, 1982), has compiled a list of texts written to a new English 
early modern female readership. She believes that this phenomenon 
could suggest an increasing literacy rate among Elizabethan and Stuart 
women. Karen Newman, in Fashioning Femininity and English Renaissance 
Drama (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1991), believes these texts could be an 
attempt to more deeply inscribe the family ideology on a woman's body 
as the result of women transgressing the established codes of 
appropriate feminine behavior, witnessed in historical records. Nancy 
Armstrong and Leonard Tennenhouse, in their collection of essays The 
Ideology of Conduct (London: Methuen, 1987), argue for a close 
relationship between the codification of feminine comportment in 
women's conduct books and the endeavor of the middle ranks of society 
to achieve economic power. 

5 I will argue below that this renewed interest in classical literature 
contributed to the success of the all-male casts in England. 


Classics was an increased interest on the part of women in 
literature and learning. Kelso writes: 

It was a disturbing phenomenon, this 
rising interest of women in the world 
of books and their demand for 
education, certain to increase [male] 
suspicion and antagonism. It may well 
be suspected that the. ..flood of advice 
to wives on marriage, modeled on St. 
Paul's pattern, rose in the renaissance 
in part from alarm that women were 
breaking out of bounds and needed to be 
kept or set back in their place. 7 

In general, all the early modern conduct books clearly 

establish that wives are subject to their husbands' 

authority and are to love their spouses out of obedience, 

not necessarily out of love. They are to maintain the 

household and be contained by it, are to forbear their 

husbands' shortcomings, and are to comport themselves in a 

manner that signifies "weak hands and feeble knees is a 

woman." 8 Women, in other words, needed to be physically and 

ideologically positioned beneath their husbands, fathers, 

or male guardians, no matter what their class standing. 

Ruth Kelso contends that women were "classless" insofar as 

they were always considered second class citizens, no 

7 Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance, 10. 

8 This quote is derived from Thomas Becon's The Catachism, published in 
1844 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP) 343, but originally part of his Workes 
written between 1560-1564. 


matter what their actual class standing was. 9 Lawrence 
Stone contends that the household became a "most valuable 
institution for social control at the village level." 1 " 
Women were ideally to remain enclosed inside their homes, 
performing all manner of household maintenance and 
nurturing services for which they received no compensation 
and which left them homebound as well as socially immobile. 
Whether "classless" in Kelso's sense or classed as a 
gender, women were exploited as a result of their socio- 
economic position. If the conduct books are a glimpse into 
real life, then women left their homes only to attend 
church, visit a sick neighbor, or partake in a social 
function, often accompanied by male escorts. 

Since men were more literate 11 than women up until and, 
for the most part, including the early modern period, men 
wrote the conduct books that not only instructed women in 
bodily comportment but also "taught" them how to cook, do 

9 Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance. 

10 Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 28. 

Stone, in The Family, Sex and Marriage, says that within the general 
population "only one woman in three could even sign her name in a 
marriage register in 1754, which was not much more than half the 
proportion of men, and there is every reason to suppose that the 
proportion was if anything worse in the seventeenth century. Women at 
all levels of society were an educationally deprived group compared 
with men" (144). Even among artistocratic circles, the notion of a 
woman receiving a learned education, as espoused in Castiglione' s The 
Courtier, survived approximately forty years [1520-1560] . 


needlework, deliver babies, care for the sick, and even 
nurse their children. I put quotation marks around 
"taught" because I strongly suspect men often acquired 
these skills by observing women, perhaps their own wives 
and mothers. Since the majority of the female population 
was illiterate, women often could only pass their various 
skills onto other women by word of mouth. Literate men, 
therefore, were able to appropriate these skills and write 
them as their own in the form of instructions to women, 
thereby assuming a position of power and authority. 

Conduct books also instructed women on how to dress 
and "beautify" themselves, when it was appropriate to leave 
their domicile, how to behave in mixed company, when and 
what to speak, and how to engage in appropriate amusements. 
This authority was further inscribed through marginal 
glosses and intertexual references to scripture, classical 
texts, and medieval medical discourses, all written by men. 
One author admits that he received a recipe from a 
"countrie gentlewoman whome I could name [although he does 
not], which venteth great store of sugar cakes made of this 
composition." 12 Plat finds fault with this recipe, however, 

12 Sir Hugh Plat, Delights for Ladies (London, 1608) Item B5 , 


since it "tasteth too much of the sugar, and too little of 

the almonds" 13 and recites his new and improved recipe. 

In spite of the apparently authoritative stance of men 

in general and husbands in particular, marriage was often 

referred to as a place where men will live a miserable 

existence. In a tongue-in-cheek text by Thomas Heywood, 

the author retells a poem allegedly written by a man in 

great hesitation over whether or not to marry. The poem 

finally concludes that there is too much risk involved: 

No marriage then, lie keep my single state, 

Since on a wife so many dangers wait. 

But if heaven will that I a Consort have, 

grant me one that's pious, wise, and grave. 14 

The plethora of anti-marriage doggerals and jest books 

depicting the hen-pecked husband did not dissuade men from 

marrying; a wife was a "necessary evil." This evil, 

according to some authors, placed men under constant 

persecution. Richard Brathwaite's Aar't Asleepe Husband? 

A Boulster Lecture (1640) and Thomas Heywood' s A Curtaine 

Lecture (1637) are based on the assumption that women never 

cease talking and, therefore, deny their husbands sleep. 

The frontispiece of Brathwaite's text depicts a wife 

sitting up in bed, talking to her beleaguered and sleep- 

13 Plat, Item B5 . 

14 Thomas Heywood, A Curtaine Lecture (London, 1637) 7! 


deprived husband. These texts are, in a sense, facetious 
conduct books, perhaps printed not only to give men a few 
laughs but also to ridicule women into mending their ways. 

Some texts cannot definitively be categorized as 
conduct books simply because they masked themselves as 
"defenses of women, " and were actually exercises in logical 
argumentation. More importantly, though, they served as an 
ideological site from which to prescribe appropriate 
feminine behavior for the early modern woman of the middle 
classes. Sir Thomas Elyot, in his The Defence of Good 
Women (1540), stages an argumentative dialogue between the 
fictional characters Caninius, an anti-feminist, and 
Candidus, a supporter of women, to counter a seemingly 
perpetual antifeminist discourse rooted in both biblical 
and classical writings. The conversation begins with 
Caninius alleging that his compatriot is blinded by love 
and, therefore, cannot see the treachery and falsehood that 
inheres in all women. Candidus counters this assertion by 
saying that, through his reading and life's experience, he 
has come to a contrary conclusion. He cites the threadbare 
examples of virtuous mythical and historical women, such as 
Penelope, who was never "by dede word nor countinance in 


hir chaste purpose unconstant . " 15 He declares the 
"Constance of ladies and damselles" by retelling the 
stories of wives who either waited patiently for their 
husbands to return home from their adventures, followed 
them to the grave, or lived in "sorowe contynuall more 
paynefulle than deathe"^ after being widowed. Caninius, 
citing Aristotle, posits that women are "unperfit" 
creatures, never content and "alwaie unconstant...." 17 They 
are, he says, 

weaker than men, and have their fleshe 
softer, lesse heare on their visages, 
and their voice sharper, and as I have 
redde, they have in some partes of 
their bodies, their boones fewer. 18 

This weakness, Caninius believes, resides in their souls as 

well. After critiquing body and soul, this detractor of 

women remonstrates the female mind: 

And the witte, that they have, is not 
substanciall but apish: neuer 
florishyng but in ungraciousnesse, or 
in trimmying themselues with pratie 
deuises, or excusying their faultes 
with unstudied answeres.... 19 

15 Sir Thomas Elyot, The Defense of Good Women (1540) n. pag. 

16 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag. 

17 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag. 

18 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag. 

19 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag. 


Because inconstancy is women's "most imperfection, " in them 
"witte littell preuaileth. " 20 At the conclusion of this 
dialectic, Candidus tells Caninius that he has invited 
Zenobia to dinner. She is proficient in Greek, Latin, and 
Egyptian, teaches her children, and is an eloquent writer 
of stories. Zenobia' s behavior, Candidus avers, will shame 
his friend into the recanting of his misogyny. When 
Zenobia arrives, she immediately voices her concern that 
"to be out of [her] owne house at this tyme of the nyghte" 21 
might compromise her sterling reputation. After Candidus 
assures her that her honor will not be besmirched, Zenobia 
tells Caninius that she has pursued her studies to effect a 
more virtuous, constant, and temperate wife and now-widow, 
mother, and ruler of her deceased husband's kingdom. 
Because of her own docility, Zenobia claims that her 
subjects— and even her enemies— followed her example and 
became submissive as Zenobia ruled the kingdom in her 
deceased husband's stead. This treatise, like the conduct 
books that will follow, establishes what would become the 
ideal wife of the middle classes: chaste, silent, and 

20 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag. 

21 Elyot, The Defense of Good Women, n. pag. 


obedient. 22 This newly-fashioned woman would be unlike her 
aristocratic counterpart; she would not be a witty 
conversationalist, robed in silks and velvets, whose role 
was to look beautiful and alluring while entertaining her 
equally witty interlocutors. 

This earlier female exemplum is found in Book Three of 
Baldesar Castiglione ' s The Book of the Courtier, published 
in Venice in 1528 and translated into English by Sir Thomas 
Hoby in 1561. The text consists of a rhetorical game in 
which a coterie of the wealthy, witty, and educated fashion 
the perfect "courtier that never was, nor perhaps ever 
could be." 23 Once he is designed, the perfect court lady 
follows, rather like an Eve following an Adam. The court 
lady is required to be in every way like the male courtier, 
"insofar as her frailty allows." 24 Signor Magnifico, the 
"defender of women" amongst these roman a clef characters, 
compares himself to Pygmalion and insists that once he has 
fashioned this lady to his "own liking," he will "take her 

22 I draw this description from Suzanne W. Hull whose thorough 
compilation of conduct books for early modern women is found in her 
Chaste, Silent, and Obedient. 

23 Baldesar Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier, trans, and intro. 
George Bull (London: Penguin, 1967) 202. 

24 For a full discussion of the perfect female courtier, see Chapter 3 
of The Courtier. 


for [his] own." 25 At the outset, the Magnifico declares 

that "above all, I hold that a woman should in no way 

resemble a man as regards her ways, manners, words, 

gestures and bearing." 26 Many of the qualities conscripted 

by the Magnifico become requirements of the English early 

modern woman and are set down in the conduct books. In 

general, the courtly lady must be: 

more circumspect [than her male 
counterpart] and at greater pains to 
avoid giving an excuse for someone to 
speak ill of her; she should not only 
be beyond reproach but also beyond even 
suspicion, for a woman lacks a man's 
resources when it comes to defending 
herself. 27 

However, Signor Magnifico, unlike the male authors of 

English conduct books, believes that "much is lacking to a 

woman who lacks beauty." 28 Moreover, The Courtier ' s lady 

must be proficient in entertaining all manner of man: 

I say that the Lady who is at Court 
should properly have, before all else, 
a certain pleasing affability whereby 
she will know how to entertain 
graciously every kind of man with 
charming and honest conversation, 
suited to the time and the place and 

25 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211. 

26 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211. 

27 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211. 

28 Castiglione, The Courtier, 211. 


the rank of the person with whom she is 
talking. 29 

These requisites are the antithesis of the English conduct 

books in which typically women are instructed to "use few 

words, and those low and milde" 30 when they are in their 

husbands' presence and, indeed, in the presence of any man. 

While a wife is to manage her household and family, the 

Magnifico says that "this [is] not to be her chief 

occupation." 31 As the sixteenth century draws to an end, 

the English conduct books will opine an opposite view of 

the ideal woman. The "quick and vivacious spirit" the 

Magnificio desires in his lady is conspicuously lacking in 

the later English treatises where a woman is divested of 

her wit and imbued with domestic duties. 

Edmund Tilney's The Flower of Friendship (1568) helps 

comprise a large group of marriage handbooks (both English 

and continental) that were adaptations of Erasmus's 

humanist Conjugium, one of his colloquies on marriage. 

Tilney drew on other humanist writers as well, such as Juan 

29 Castiglione, The Courtier, 212, emphasis mine. 


William Whately, A Bride-Bush or a Wedding Sermon (London, 1608) 42, 

31 Castiglione, The Courtier, 214, 




Luis Vives and Pedro di Luxan. 3 ? still following the 
continental style, The Flower extends its marital advice in 
the form of a narrative within a bucolic setting, peopled 
by a group of well-fed and well-heeled Ladies and 
Gentlemen. After a dinner seasoned with "exceeding 
cheere," "pleasaunt talke," "melodie," and "sweete cheering 
f the Ladies," 33 the group sits beneath a "faire Arbour" in 
hat the narrator says "might be called a terrestriall 
paradyse." 34 However, although Tilney's fictionalized 
characters and setting closely mirror those in 
Castiglione's Courtier, The Flower's instructions for 
ladies do not. Castiglione and other continental writers 
addressed a far more sophisticated audience, offering 
advice to ladies regarding their ability to maintain a 
witty conversation with their male interlocutors and their 
skill to display grace and learning. 35 Tilney's agenda is 
guite different. Even though the setting implies that the 

Valerie Wayne, introduction, The Flower of Friendship: a Renaissance 
Dialogue Contesting Marriage by Edmund Tilney, ed. Valerie Wayne 
(Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1992) 3. 


The Flower of Friendship, 102. 

34 The Flower of Friendship, 103. 

3 Hull, in Chaste, Silent and Obedient, says that writers like 
Castiglione, La Tour-Landry, and DuBoscq "approached the conduct and 
position of women through continental eyes" (32). Castiglione, in 
particular, held a more enlightened view of women and, instead of 
instructing them to be silent and obedient, "emphasizes the need for 
sophisticated conversational talents in women" (32) . 


guests are members of the aristocracy whose women were 
marked by elegant dress and eloquent speech, the 
conversation that follows makes it clear that the 
articulate, witty wife has been upstaged by the more 
containable silent and subordinate spouse. 

This trend had already begun with texts such as those 
written by Heinrich Bullinger, who, like so many of his 
counterparts, begins his vapid treatise by establishing the 
Biblical basis for marriage. In The Christen State of 
Matrimonye (1541) Wedlock is sacred, as opposed to profane; 
it was "ordeyned and instituted" by God, both textually (in 
the first book of the Bible) and physically (in 
"paradise"). 36 William Perkins claims that "the onely rule 
of ordering the Family, is the written Word of God." 37 

The manner in which the first woman was "created"-and, 

therefore, the materiality of her body-is crucial to her 

position within the family ideology and gendered hierarchy: 

The woman was taken from and out of the 
syde of man and not from the erth lest 
any man shulde thinke that he had 
gotten his wyfe out of the myre: but to 
considre that the wife is the husbandes 
flesh and bone and therfore to love 
her: yet was she not made of the head. 


Heinrich Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony (Antwerp, 1541) 
Chapter 1, n. pag. I cite the chapter here and following due to 
irregular pagination. When copying the text, I use commas in place of 
the slash mark found in the facsimile but maintain the same spelling. 


Perkins, Christian Economy, 1. 


For the husband is the heade & matter 
of the wyfe. Nether was she made of 
the fete (as though thou mightest 
spurne her a waye from the & nothing 
regarde her) but euen out of thy syde 
as one that is set next unto man to be 
his helpe & companyon. And as the bone 
of the flesh is strong so ought the 
husband to be the strength helpe and 
co [m] forte of the wife. Therefore was 
she also taken and created out of the 
rybbe or bone and not out of the 
flesh. 38 

Bullinger and his counterparts take great pains to 

configure woman within the paradigm of the early modern 

household. Because she is taken from the man's side, a 

woman is deemed a man's "helpe & companyon." More 

importantly, however, because she is not taken from a man's 

head, a wife must be spatially positioned beneath her 

husband's head, signifying both her physical and mental 

deficiencies. Curiously, however, as Bullinger continues 

forming his analogies, a logical conundrum is created. The 

author claims that, since woman was not taken from the 

head, she cannot possess those qualities that the head 

signifies: a higher social position and a superior mental 

capacity. It follows, then, that if woman was not taken 

from a bone that is strong, she would be physically weak; 

conversely, if she was taken from the bone, she would be 

physically strong. But, here, Bullinger argues the 

38 Bullinger, Chapter 1, n. pag. 


opposite: because woman was "taken and created out of the 
rybbe or bone and not out of the flesh," she is physically 
inferior. The husband is the one who retains the bone's 
strength-not the wife. In order to bestow yet another 
superior attribute on man, Bullinger must reverse both his 
analogy and his logic. Whatever "proofs" Bullinger or his 
contemporaries deploy in their writings, the woman always 
comes up "short," standing beneath the man's authority and 
within marriage, the only institution deemed appropriate 
for her. 

Furthermore, a wife is not only married to her husband 
but also to God himself: "And addeth therto that they must 
esteme this obedience none otherwise then if it were she 
wed unto god himself e." 39 A woman's obedience to her 
husband is likened to her acquiescence to God: "It 
foloweth also that the disobedie [n] ce which wives shew unto 
their husbandes displeaseth god no less the[n] whan he is 
resisted himself e." 40 Since a husband was often away from 
the home, a woman was left with her servants and children, 
not immediately accountable to a human authority figure. 
Therefore, it followed that if her body was not 

39 Bullinger, Chapter 17, n. pag. 

40 Bullinger, Chapter 17, n. pag. 


accountable, her soul would have to be. While a woman was 

encouraged to practice the art of self-surveillance through 

reading scripture and through prayer, the conduct books 

reminded her that she, or her soul, was ultimately 

answerable to God. The only equality Renaissance 

theologians afforded a woman was that, she, like her male 

counterpart, had a soul, subject to God's grace. However, 

she must not forget that her parity was only in Heaven, not 

here on earth. Lest she disobey, she was reminded that 

hellfire and damnation loomed large, along with her 

husband's authority. Although a woman was under the gaze 

of her male authority figure only when he was at home, she 

was never without the discreet and continuous Holy Gaze 

that carried severe and eternal censure. 

Invariably, the conduct book writers rehearse the same 

theme: the female reader is exhorted to remain obedient 

within her home and to maintain the very domestic sphere 

meant to circumscribe her, body and soul: 

The chiefest way for a woman to 
preserve and maintaine this good fame, 
is to be resident in hir owne house. 
For an honest woman in sobernes, keping 
well hir house, gayneth thereby great 
reputation, and if she be evill, it 
driveth away many evil occasions, and 
stoppeth the mouthes of people. 41 

41 Edmund Tilney, The Flower of Friendship (London, 1568) 136. 


Her physical and moral weakness established, a woman was 
instructed how to comport this inferiorized body. 

The inferiorization of her body was affirmed in 
medical discourse, in the guise of conduct books as well. 
While most of the instructions to women on the physical 
care of their bodies are written by doctors after 
approximately 1750 42 , some medical treatises were written 
earlier. These texts, while purporting to assist a woman 
in the understanding and care of her body, insidiously mark 
that body as less proficient than her male counterpart, 
often focusing exclusively on female "diseases" that are 
reputed to be the result of a woman's physiology. Nicholas 
Fontanus 43 writes, "The Matrix is the cause of all those 
diseases which happen to women" since it has a "Sympathie 
with all the parts of the body" and this "consent holdeth" 
with the brain, nerves, spine, the "hinder part of the 
head," the heart, and the arteries that "lie about the 


Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 2 4 

43 Fontanus, Nicholas. The Womans Doctour: or an Exact and Distinct 
Explanation of all such Diseases as are Peculiar to that Sex, (London: 
1652) . While this text was not translated into English until 1652, the 
fundamental beliefs about a woman's body hadn't changed appreciably 
since Hipprocrates or Galen. See Gail Kern Paster's The Body 
Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England 
(Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993), for a brilliant discussion of how medical 
discourse, derived from Galenic humoral theory, reinscribes the social 
hierarchies already in place in early modern England. Medical writers 
did not substantially alter the age-old concept of a woman's physiology 
in spite of new empirical evidence. In fact, the old theories were 


Abdomen at the bottome of the bellie," the liver, the 
stomaach, the kidneys, the bladder, and the "straight 
gut." 44 Fontanus does little more than rehearse the already 
known "perfect understanding" of Hippocrates and other 
ancients in regard to a woman's body. 45 

Interestingly, the extent and severity of these 
infirmities depend upon a woman's married state. Fontanus 
divides female diseases into four categories: Those that 
(1) are common to all women, (2) are peculiar to widows and 
virgins, (3) concern barren women and fruitful ones, and 
(4) "befall Women with Childe, and Nurses." 46 Fontanus then 
asserts that "Wives are more healthfull then (sic) Widowes 
or Virgins, because they are refreshed with mans seed, and 
ejaculate their own, which being excluded, the cause of the 

kept in place to reinscribe the inferiorization of a woman's body and, 
therefore, her subjugation within a gendered hierarchy. 


Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 2-3. 

45 Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman (Cambridge: Cambridge 
UP, 1980) . Maclean writes that Plato believed the uterus was an animal 
that lived inside a woman because it had independent movement and even 
a sense of smell. While Galen refuted this assertion, he agrees that 
the uterus does move; however, this motion results from muscle 
contractions. Early Renaissance Platonic apologists argued that Plato 
used the moving uterus as a metaphor. I suggest that Renaissance 
writers continued to utilize this metaphor as a means to suggest 
woman's affinity to motion and that whether or not the uterus is an 
animal in its own right is a moot point. Although, as Maclean points 
out, most Renaissance scholars did not accept Plato's belief in this 
particular instance, they still saw the uterus in motion and the cause 
of much of a woman's physical discomfort and natural infirmity. 

46 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 2-3. 


evill is taken away." 47 A woman's "evill," therefore, is 
removed only when she accepts a man's superior semen and 
expells her own inferior seed. 

Women, Fontanus suggests, in the interest of their 
health and well-being, should marry. Married women have 
less painful menses and thereby avoid a putrif ication of 
the blood that leads to "heavinesse of minde, and dulnesse 
of spirit, a benummednesse of the parts, timorousnesse, and 
an aptnes to be frighted," as well as finding it difficult 
to "fetch their breath." 48 Like the virgin, the widow is 
more disposed to illness. A widow faces an "abundance of 
spermatick humour" which Fontanus says, according to 
Galen's report, can be "diminished by the hand of a 
skilfull Midwife, and a convenient oyntment." 49 It folows 
that the healthiest of women is not only the married one, 
but the fruitful one as well. Childbirth, Fontanus 
reports, opens veins and removes excess blood, avoiding all 
manner of disease. Indeed, if a woman is concerned about 
living a healthy life, Fontanus suggests she must marry and 
bear children. This conclusion, in light of the high 

47 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 4 

48 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 5 

49 Fontanus, The Womans Doctour, 6. 


incidence of death from childbirth does not seem to concern 

Fontanus in the least. 

As a consequence of her physiological shortcomings, 

conduct books exhort women to carry themselves with 

restraint. Thomas Becon, in his Workes (1560-64), writes 

that the "wickedness of a woman changeth her face: she 

shall muzzle her countenance, as it were a bear, and as a 

sack shall she shew it among the neighbours." 50 Moreover, a 

woman's bodily carriage reflects her socio-economic 

position insofar as her averted glances, blushes, and 

unfurrowed brows bespeak her lack of authority and her 

economic dependence upon her father, spouse, or other male 

guardian. A wife was not only to acknowledge her 

inferiority to her husband but also was to carry herself as 

an inferior to all men. William Whately, in a Bride Bush 

(1617) , writes, 

The whole duty of the wife is referred 
to two heads. The first is, to 
acknowledge her inferiority: the next, 
to carry her selfe as inferiour. First 
then the wiues iudgement must be 
conuinced, that she is not her husbands 
equall, yea that her husband is her 
better by farre; else there can bee no 
contentment, either in her heart, or in 
her house. 51 


Here, Becon, in The Catachism, is quoting "Jesus, the son of Sirach" 


51 William Whately, A Bride-Bush, 36, emphasis mine. 


Barnabe Rich, in The Honestie of this Age (1614), 

warns women against the use of certain "wanton" gestures, 

citing the "Prophet Esay" [Isaiah 3:16] who 

reprehendeth the wanton gestures that 
were vsed by the daughters of Sion in 
his daies, at their haugtinesse of 
minde, at their stretched out neckes, 
at their wandering eyes, at their 
walking and their mincing as they passe 
through the streets.... 52 

Rich's text bemoans the fact that the women of his day were 

no longer judged by their bodily comportment as severely as 

they were during Solomon's day who believed the "true 

markes of a wicked woman" consisted of the 

bitternesse of a tongue, the pride of a 
haughtie heart, the shamelesnesse of a 
face, the immodesty of a mind, the 
imudency of lookes, the rowling of 
wanton eyes, the lewdness of manners, 
the lightnesse of behauiour, the 
looseness of life.... 53 

He insists that a "womans honestie is pent vp in a litle 

roome, it is still confined but from her girdle downewards" 

and that "there is no imperfection in a woman but that of 

her bodie. " 54 

52 Barnabe Rich, The Honestie of this Age (London: 1614) 15. 

53 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 16. 

54 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 16. 


As long as a woman polices her body, Rich says, her 
mind and its "deformities" are of no concern. Women, he 
concludes, are the more fortunate because men are 
answerable for both mind and body. Yet, women are also far 
more accountable for their comportment since, Rich claims, 
"Our behauiours, our gestures, and our outward attyres are 
tongs to proclaime the inward disposition of the mind." 55 
Calling on mothers to be a good example to their daughters, 
he recites an "olde prouerbe": "If the mother trot how 
should the daughter amble?" 56 The length of a woman's steps 
proclaims the degree of her constancy. Therefore, trotting 
women are sexually incontinent. 

The silent and gesturally-obedient wife's will, along 

with her virginity, was to be stolen from her by her 

husband as she acknowledged her inferiority to all men and 

gendered her body through her restricted motions. The idea 

of woman being associated with motion is nothing new. In 

his study of Renaissance attitudes toward woman in regard 

to the scholarship and scholarly texts, Ian Maclean writes, 

From the earliest times, and in the 
most far-flung cultures, the notion of 
female has in some sense been opposed 

55 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 26-27 

56 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 27. 


to that of male, and aligned with other 
opposites. 57 

Drawing from a previous study, Maclean demonstrates the 

earliest use of polarity in regard to masculine and 

feminine attributes: 

male female 

limit unlimited 

odd even 

one plurality 

right left 

square oblong 

at rest moving 

straight curved 

light darkness 

good evil 58 

Maclean goes on to show how this male/female dichotomy, 
inherited from Aristotle, was adapted by Renaissance 
scholars and utilized to develop their "notion of woman." 

Obvious from this list of polarities are the early 
modern beliefs, as opined in the contemporary conduct 
books, that a woman is excessive and incontinent, a charge 
often made in regard to her voracious and insatiable sexual 
desire; plural or inconsistent, another well-worn conduct- 
book contention; moving, something the conduct books 
attempt to correct by incarcerating a women in her domicile 
(medical writers also blame a "moving" uterus for almost 


Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman, 2 

58 Maclean, in The Renaissance Notion of Woman, cites a study by G.E.R. 
Lloyd entitled Polarity and Analogy: Two Types of Argumentation in 


all of a woman's gynecological problems, mentioned above); 
dark and evil, a concept supported by theological 
references to Mother Eve; and curved, another theological 
claim derived from a woman's being formed out of Adam's 
"crooked" rib. This "crookedness" can refer to both a 
woman's moral turpitude and her physical deformities. The 
right/left dichotomy harks back to Galen's elaborate 
description of the anatomical structure of the genital 
organs in which he purports that the left male testis and 
the left side of the uterus receive "uncleansed" blood and 
are, therefore, inferior as well as responsible for the 
procreation of a female child, also inferior. The right 
sides of the genital organs were closer to the liver, 
hotter, and therefore, superior. Naturally, the right 
sides produced a male heir. 59 

How any of these qualities, other than "evil," were 
assumed to be pejorative in the first place and became the 
linchpin of all major premises about the condition of women 
cannot be explained, other than the fact that Aristotle 
said they were. Renaissance scholars almost never 

Early Greek Thought (Cambridge, 1971) in which Lloyd demonstrates how 
these opposites were utilized in argumentation. 

3 Danielle Jacquart and Claude Thomasset. Sexuality and Medicine in the 
Middle Ages, trans. Matthew Adamson (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1988). 
See especially Chapter 2. 


questioned them and continued to employ them in their 
discourses, methodically and authoritatively inferiorizing 
a woman' s body. 

Maclean's succinct study traces the historical 
development of the Renaissance concept of woman and her 
inherent inferiority from classical philosophers and early 
Church Fathers and demonstrates how these beliefs became 
interdisciplinary in the sense that they were used in 
religious, medical, political, social, and legal 
discourses. Each discourse "proved" something different in 
regard to the inferior nature of a woman's mind and body; 
however, they all arrived at the same conclusion: a woman 
was, in all regards, inferior and, therefore, could not 
engage in public affairs and in the formation of the 
culture in which she existed. 60 Because a woman was 
constitutive of so many negative qualities, a conclusion 
justified through the citation of authoritative texts, 61 it 
was "for her own good" that a wife submit herself to her 
husband's rule. If she refused to adhere to his 
admonitions, her husband was to "cut her off then from 

60 In regard to cultural alienation of women, see Sandra Lee Bartky. 
For the separation of women from the public sphere, see Joan Kelly. 

61 Maclean, in The Renaissance Notion of Woman, says that these 
"authoritative texts were influential throughout the Renaissance" (5) . 



[his] flesh, that she do not alway abuse [him]." 62 In most 
cases, this "cutting off" would have left a woman without 
any economic support and in a world in which she had no 
place to turn. 

A woman's gestures not only became the silent 
indicators of her economic dependence and inferior 
constitution but also of her inward state. Her soul, in 

ther words, was exposed through her actions, down to the 

focusing of her eye. According to Richard Brathwaite, 

The Sanctuary of her heart is solely 
dedicated to her Maker; it can find no 
roome for an inordinate affection to 
lodge in. Shee knowes not how to throw 
out her loue-attracting Lures; nor to 
expose the glorious beauty of her soule 
to shame. A moments staine must not 
blemish her state. Shee will not 
therefore giue her eye leaue to wander, 
lest it should betray her honour to a 
treacherous intruder. 63 

As Michel Foucault points out, the modern soul is the 

result of a "certain technology of power over the body, " 64 a 

duplication of the body similar to that witnessed in the 

body of the king as both person and monarch. The modern 

soul exists as a reality, functions as corrective power, is 


Becon, The Catachism, 345. 

63 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 203. 

64 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 
trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979) 29. 


born out of "methods of punishment, supervision and 
constraint." 65 The early modern feminine soul still 
maintained some of the aspects of the Christian soul, 
harking back to the practices of medieval female religious 
figures. A woman's piety was inextricably connected to her 
morphology. Her exterior bodily manifestations, while less 
extreme than her medieval counterpart's, were her soul's 
expression of its spiritual condition. But the early 
modern female body also began to assimilate some of the 
qualities of the Foucauldian modern soul since it was 
beginning to be methodologically generated through a bodily 
taxonomy in conduct books that became increasingly specific 
regarding a woman's feminine gesturology . 66 The exterior of 
her body became the signifier of not only her spiritual but 
also her social status. While Foucault contends that the 
modern soul is imprisoned by the body, I suggest that the 
early modern female body was incarcerated by the soul, an 

65 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 29. 

66 Foucault, in Discipline & Punish, uses the term "bodily rhetoric," to 
describe the "signs" of a seventeenth century soldier (135) . I choose 
the term "feminine gesturology" for two reasons. First, I wish to 
indicate how gestures are meant to indicate gender, not just one's 
social ranking. Second, I prefer the term "gesturology," as opposed to 
"rhetoric, " since it indicates an unspoken language and, more 
importantly, the unspeaking of women, a goal of the conduct books. 


exterior soul manifested in a prescribed bodily 
comportment. 67 

The materiality of the early modern woman's body as 
the linchpin of the early modern conduct books signifies 
the material goods that were fast becoming a crucial 
ingredient in a protocapitalist society. Unlike the 
eighteenth century soldier or factory worker Foucault 
describes, 68 a wife was to remain in her home almost 
exclusively. She was not to gad about, to gossip, or to 
circulate within the community. To circulate was to defile 
her body, to open it up for censure. 

However, similar to Foucault' s factory worker, 
soldier, or boarding school student, the early modern 
housewife was enjoined to an increased mastery over her 
body through self-discipline and an adherence to conduct 
books rules, producing the Foucauldian "docile body." As 
the rules for a woman's daily regimen became more and 
meticulous, the form in which conduct books were written 
began to alter. They started to deploy an organized form 

67 See Judith Butler, "Gender Trouble, Feminist Theory, and 
Psychoanalytic Discourse," in Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda J. 
Nicholson (New York: Routledge, 1990) . I agree with Judith Butler who 
sees the soul not as an interior construct but as an exterior 
inscription on the body. However, while she sees the soul as 
invisible, I find it to be highly visible through the "signs" of a 
woman's bodily comportment. 

68 Foucault, Discipline & Punish. See especially Part III, Chapter 1. 


of writing termed "method" 69 where subject matter is 
dichotomized, halved, and reduced to "so-called 
indivisibles or essentials." 70 The "disciplinary space of 
natural beings" or "taxonomy" Foucault discusses regarding 
the supervision of eighteenth-century soldiers 71 inheres in 
these later conduct books. Just as the economic table 
formed "the regulated movement of wealth," 72 in the 
eighteenth century, so did conduct books fashion the 
prescribed movement of a woman's body in the late sixteenth 
and early seventeenth centuries. 

One conduct book, entitled The Good Wife, precedes its 
description of "A Wife" with a paragraph entitled "The 
Method." In essence, this introductory paragraph describes 
the making of a wife. The author concludes that once a man 
has chosen his wife, he must follow the choice with "the 
application of that woman by loue to himself e, which makes 
her a Wife. And lastly, the onely condition of a Wife, 
Fitnesse." 73 A good wife's fitness is not to be found in 

69 See Dudley Fenner, The Artes of Logike and Rhetorike (1584), 
especially the sixth chapter entitled "Method." 

70 Newman, Fashioning Femininity, 21. 

71 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 149. 

72 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 150. 

73 Brathwaite, The Good Wife (London, 1619) n. pag. 


her "Byrth, Beautie," or "Wealth" but in her soul where 
"Gods Image" resides. 74 And, as the conduct books 
continually rehearse, a woman's inward state can be read on 
her exterior. Paradoxically, the more a woman refined her 
gestures, the more deeply she inscribed herself in 
subjection to male authority. 

As Foucault writes, "disciplinary coercion establishes 
in the body the constricting link between an increased 
aptitude and an increased domination," 75 a discipline that 
"sometimes requires enclosure." 76 "The household," A. J. 
Fletcher and J. Stevenson write, "was the major vehicle of 
discipline in the early modern period." 77 A well-ordered 
household was key to the "maintenance of a well-regulated 
society." 78 And within the microcosm of the household, the 
husband ultimately ruled the roost. Taking personal 
temperament and other mitigating factors into account, 
Fletcher and Stevenson believe "there is no question that 

74 Brathwaite, The Good Wife, n. pag. 

75 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 136. 

76 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 141. 

7 Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson, introduction, Order and Disorder 
in Early Modern England, ed. by Fletcher and Stevenson (Cambridge: 
Cambridge UP, 1985) 32. 

78 Fletcher and Stevenson, introduction, 32. 


the head of the household was envisaged as the linchpin of 

family discipline." 79 

Should a woman find it necessary to go out, one 

conduct book writer advises: 

Now, Gentlewomen, you are to put on 
your vailes, and goe into Company. 
Which (I am perswaded) you cannot enter 
without a maidenblush, a modest 
tincture. Herein you are to be most 
cautelous, seeing no place can be more 
mortally dangerous. 80 

A woman's blush, in fact, is her "best Rhetoricke, " along 

with "bashfull smiles." 81 Furthermore, if she receives a 

"light report," 82 her ears should glow as well. 

A woman's identity became so inextricably intertwined 

with her home and her household duties that it became 

common for a woman's body to be conflated with the 

quotidian items with which she was surrounded. In a 

conduct book by Sir Hugh Plat, 83 "The Table" often mixes 

recipes for "beautie" products with those for boiling fish. 

Some examples follow: 

Item # 
Beefe fresh at the sea c,20 

79 Fletcher and Stevenson, introduction, 33. 

80 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 41. 

81 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 170. 

82 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 168. 

83 Plat, Table of Contents. 


Beautie for the face d,7,14 

Bisket bread, or French bisket a, 19 

Face spotted or freckled to help d,6,23 

Face made faire d,7,14 

Face full of heate, helped d, 11, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 

Face kept white and cleare d, 12 

Fish into paste c, 14 

Handwater excellent d,2,28 

Hands stained to helpe d, 5 

Hands freckled to helpe d, 6 

As becomes obvious from the table, along with keeping 

the house spotless, a woman needed to keep her hands and 

face free from spots, freckles, and blemishes. Taxonomized 

alongside her household items, the feminized body was to 

perform efficiently while maintaining a regimen that would 

keep her skin flawless, or more accurately, make her 

imperfections disappear. According to Sir Hugh, a lady can 

remove stains from her hands by washing the stain with the 

"iuyce of Sorrell" (Item d,5). She also can remove spots 

and freckles from her hands and face with the "sappe that 

issueth out of a Birch tree" (Item d,6). One's face can be 

beautified with the ground "iawe bones of a Hogge or Sow" 

(Item d,7). Teeth are whitened by washing them "now and 

then" with a combination of honey, vinegar, and white wine 

(Item d,10). Other recipes for flawless skin contain 

mercury, brimstone, and even turpentine. Sir Hugh has a 

remedy for bruises, one that "proued good successe in a 


maid that fell downe a paire of staires, whereby all her 
face was extremely disfigured." The patient is required to 
apply "hote clothes one after another without intermission" 
while standing before a "greate fire" for "one houre and a 
halfe, or until the swelling be cleane abated" (Item d,24). 
And for those ladies who "do now and then delight to 
sweat," Sir Hugh explains how a woman may rig up a steam 
bath. He cautions, however: "Note that the room would be 
close wherein you place your bathing tub, least any sodain 
cold should happen to offend you whilest your bodie is made 
open and porous to the aire" (Item d,28). Openness and 
porosity for a woman's body is not only unhealthy but also 
socially unacceptable. 

The early modern period seemed to place a great deal 
of emphasis on the image of a woman with white skin and red 
lips and cheeks since the "ideal of feminine beauty in the 
Elizabethan age expressed itself in extremes of white and 
red." 84 Since, as I demonstrated above, women were covered 
with garments from head to toe, there was little left to 
work with other than the face and neck to which they gave a 
great deal of attention. In order to achieve the desired 
effect, women resorted to concoctions that, paradoxically, 


Carroll Camden, The Elizabethan Woman (Houston: Elsevier, 1952) 178. 


were damaging to a woman's skin and health in general. 
While some writers warned women of the contra-indications 
of the use of ceruse or white lead, 85 for example, others 
warned against it because the "painting" of one's face was 
the work of the devil. 86 

Playwrights, too, ridiculed women for their beauty 
regimens. In Ben Jonson's Epicoene, Captain Otter insults 
his wife, claiming that "Every part o' the town owns a 
piece of her." 87 Women were positioned in a no-win 
situation. They were told that their skin, like their 
bodies, was defective and needed remedies which were 
published in books by men and sold to women. A woman's 
inferior nature, then, became a rather lucrative commodity, 
not only for the writers of conduct books but also for the 
merchants who sold the beauty products as well as for the 
playwrights whose antifeminist barbs drew many laughs and 
the crowds who paid their salaries. Husbands, however, 
criticized their wives for their beauty regimines because, 

Camden, in The Elizabethan Woman, cites Giovanni Paolo Lomazzo, who 
in 1598 wrote that when women use ceruse or white lead on their faces, 
they "doe quickly become withered and gray headed, because this doth so 
mightely drie vp the naturall moysture of their flesh" (178). 

Camden, in The Elizabethan Woman, quotes Thomas Tuke who, in 1616, 
claimed that ceruse or white lead was "brought in vse by the diuell, 
the capitall enemie of nature. . ." (179). 

87 Ben Jonson, Epicoene, IV. i. 258-9. All quotations from Drama of the 
English Renaissance II: The Stuart Period, Russell A. Fraser and Norman 
Rabkin, eds . (New York: MacMillan, 1976). 


as Captain Otter says, it costs money: "She spends me 

forty pound a year in mercury and hog' s-bones . " 88 As 

demonstrated above, both mercury and hog's bones were used 

to whiten a woman's skin. Captain Otter, too, was 

disconcerted because his wife was not performing the 

"office and dutie of a Wife." 99 Governed by Mrs. Otter, the 

Captain attempts to regain his masculine authority by 

demeaning his wife in the company of other men. According 

to one conduct book author, Mrs. Otter as a bad wife is 

but as an eye of glasse, or a siluer 
nose, or an iuorie tooth, or an iron 
hand, or a woodden leg, that occupieth 
the place indeed, and beareth the Name 
of a limbe or a member, but is not 
truly or properly any part of that 
bodie whereunto it is fastned; it is 
but equiuocally so called. 90 

Once again, the notion of woman as the defective Other is 

propagated. Gataker continues his diatribe against the bad 

wife, suggesting that while these are "artificiall and 

equiuocall limbs," they do serve a purpose insofar as 

they helpe to supply a place defectiue, 
that would otherwise stand vacant, and 
by supplying it, to conceale in part 

Epicoene, IV. i. 255-6, 

89 Thomas Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," A Good Wife Gods Gift and A Wife 
Indeed: Two Mariage Sermons, (London, 1623) 9. 


Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 9. 


such blemishes, as would otherwise lie 
more open to the eye of others. 91 

Reduced to a bundle of artificial prostheses, an unruly 

woman, a bad wife, can be controlled piecemeal. Conduct 

books aim to produce women as individual, taxonomized, 

disciplined, trained, and spatially ordered units to manage 

them and, in turn, to have them manage a home as frugally 

as possible. The less a man expended on his household, the 

more he had to invest in his capitalistic ventures. The 

frugality of a woman's gestures mirrored the thriftiness 

she employed to efficiently and economically run the 

household, the disciplinary regime under which she 

functioned and to which she subjected her body, and the 

frugal nature of her social worth. A well-disciplined 

body," Foucault writes, "forms the operational context of 

the slightest gesture." 92 In other words, gesture and 

discipline, whether obvious or covert, are inseparable. 

Richard Brathwaite's The English Gentlewoman, 

epitomizes the taxonimization of the female body. Its 

title page is preceded by a frontispiece that reads: 

The meaning of the Frontispice, wherein 
the Effigies itselfe; together with all 
the Emblemes, Deuices, Features, and 

91 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 9. 

92 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 152. 


Imprezzas thereto properly conducing, 
are to life described. 93 

Following this is a list of the eight subjects to which a 

woman must attend if she is to become a true English 

gentlewoman: "apparell," "behavior," "compliment," 

"decency," "estimation," "fancy," "gentility," and 

"honovr." Beneath each subject is a brief description. 

Following this list is the author's commentary: 

Each Subiect had distinguish ' d beene by line, 
And form'd their Modell to the first deuice, 
But this choyce piece was hastened so by time, 
It scarce got sight of that first Frontispice: 
Yet from this shrine such natiue beames arise, 
Impartiall eyes will iudge, right sure I am, 
Her grace improues the place from whence shee 
And well deserues an English Gentleman. 94 

As Ruth Kelso aptly concludes, although the lady did exist 

"in actuality though not in theory," she subsisted in 

relation to the gentleman who was not only the "ideal man 

so elaborately set forth by the renaissance," but also the 

"ideal of man in the generic sense." 95 

93 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, Frontispiece. 



Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, Frontispiece. 

Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance, 2. The scope of Kelso's 
study is wider than mine, both in regard to geography and subject 
matter. Kelso not only discusses the European lady, but she also 
discusses four types of texts that were written about women during the 
Renaissance: (1) the "war of the sexes," [most thoroughly examined by 
Linda Woodbridge in Women and the English Renaissance: Literature and 
the Nature of Womankind, 1540-1620 (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1984), in 
which she contends that often the defenses of women were a part of' the 
forensic rhetoric that became a long-standing tradition in regard to 


Deprived of her own identity, a wife achieved 
recognition as she mirrored her husband. Unless she were a 
nun, prior of course to Henry VIII' s edict, or a widow, who 
was always under suspicion and male scrutiny, a woman 
needed a man to be drawn out of the shadowy social 
periphery and recognized as a person. Interestingly, The 
English Gentlewoman, when initially published in 1631, was 
printed in a folio edition 96 with the English Gentleman in 
1641, as a compendium, an attachment to its predecessor. 
Functioning as a trope for a woman, The English Gentlewoman 
was read in the context of The English Gentleman, the 
feminine text finding its meaning by way of its physical 
attachment to its masculine predecessor, the feminine text 
being economically dependent upon the financial success of 
the masculine text. 

According to Brathwaite, the gentlewoman, constitutive 
of eight subjects, was under the constant scrutiny of an 
impartial divine gaze. If she reached an acceptable degree 
of improvement through her self-disciplinary measures, she 

the "question" of women]; (2)the training and duties of the wife, the 
focus of my present study; (3) love and beauty, some of which I discuss 
in relation to the inferiorization of a woman's body; and (4) the 
court . 

96 Hull, in a "Basic List of Books for Women, 1475-1640," in Chaste, 
Silent & Obedient, writes that the 1641 folio publication was "one of 
the few early women's books to appear as a pretentious type of 
publication" (153). Yet, in order to achieve this pretension, it had 
to be appended to its male counterpart. 


would be rewarded with an "English Gentleman." Better yet, 
Robert Crowley suggests in The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet 
that if a woman comport herself properly, she will procure 
a husband without a dowry: 

Paynt not thy face in any wise 
But make thy maners for to shyne 
And thou shalt please all such mens 

As do to godlines enclyne. 

Be thou modeste, sober and wise 
And learne the poyntes of houswyfry 
And men shal haue the in such price 
That thou shalt not nede a dowry. 97 

Lady Arabella Wentworth, to whom The English Gentlewoman is 

dedicated, seems to be the ideal woman of the conduct book. 

Brathwaite finds her commendable because she has been "so 

well Schooled in the Discipline of this Age, as shee onely 

desires to retaine in memory that forme which is least 

affected but most comely.... 98 Furthermore, the Lady is 

commended because she "devides her day into houres, her 

houres into holy taskes." 99 

Clearly, conduct books had their own system of 

"normalization" of the individual in that they created 

Robert Crowley, "The Womans Lesson" in The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet 
(London, 1549) n. pag. Crowley's text is divided into twelve chapters, 
each a "lesson" to a particular station in life. The final chapter is 
entitled "The Womans lesson." 

98 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, Dedication. 


Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, Dedication. 


their own "gratification-punishment" system. 100 Punishment 
was still ultimately to be found in the metaphysical realm; 
women were continually warned by these texts and from the 
pulpit that they must submit themselves to their husbands 
according to God's decree. If not, they would pay an 
eternal price, not to mention the possibility of the 
temporal cart, 101 the cucking stool, 102 or a husband's 
hand. 103 Like the individual in the workshop, school, or 
army, the early modern woman was subject to a "micro- 
penality of time..., activity..., behaviour..., speech..., body..., 

100 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, 180. 


Various forms of cart or wagon rides such as the skimington were 
employed as communal punishment in which a "hen-pecked" husband was 
mocked and a disorderly wife was put back in her "place." See David 
Underdown, "The Taming of the Scold," in Order and Disorder in Early 
Modern England, eds . Anthony Fletcher and John Stevenson (Cambridge: 
Cambridge UP, 1985) 116-36 and Martin Ingram, "The Reform of Popular 
Culture? Sex and Marriage in Early Modern England," in Popular Culture 
in Seventeenth-Century England, ed. Barry Reay (New York: St Martin's 
1985) 129-65. 

102 Women were strapped to a stool and dunked in a pond or body of water 
as punishment for behaving like a "shrew" or a "scold." See Linda 
Boose, "Scolding Brides and Bridling Scolds: Taming the Woman's Unruly 
Member," in Shakespeare Quarterly 42: 179-312. 

J Ruth Kelso, in Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance, writes, "To 
beat or not to beat was not in fact a mere academic question. The 
prerogative of corporal punishment belonged without question to all 
husbands whatever their rank, carrying with it some conviction of its 
necessity as the only efficacious cure for certain evils inherent in 
women" (85). Spousal abuse was not only approved of in the lower ranks 
of society. Kelso gives an example of Dr. William Gager, an Oxford 
graduate, who in 1616, publicly sanctioned wife beating. Susan Amussen 
in "Gender, Family and the Social Order," in Order and Disorder in 
Early Modern England, 196-217, demonstrates that not all conduct book 
writers were in agreement regarding wife beating. While William 
Whately, in A Bride-Bush, condoned it as a last measure, William Gouge 
believed it to be "the least effective method of correction available 
to a husband" (201) . 


sexuality..., and punishment...." 104 If they adhered to the 
precepts, they would be worthy of a husband and, perhaps, 
parturition. And, if they desired heavenly rewards, they 
must eschew the behavior of recalcitrant wives who have 
their wills "with their Husbands while they liue here" but 
"are neuer like to haue any reward at Gods hands." 105 

While Foucault addresses the well-disciplined male 
body of the eighteenth century, he does not discuss the 
significance of the early modern body in regard to gender. 
He connects the cellular life of a Medieval monk to the 
disciplinary practices deployed on the modern body and 
suggests that while "in every society, the body was in the 
grip of very strict powers, which imposed on it 
constraints, prohibitions or obligations," it wasn't until 
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that these 
disciplines worked on the individual body in a formulaic 
manner to achieve domination over it. The body of the 
early modern woman is a primary example of bodily 
individuation and control. It is strategically positioned 
between a residual religious ideology and an emergent 
economic one. The body of the early modern woman was a 

104 Foucault, Discipline & Punish, Hi 

105 Thomas Gataker, "A Wife in Deed." A Good Wife Gods Gift and A Wife 
Indeed: Two Mariage Sermons, (London, 1623) 26. 


body that bridged the bodies of two cultures and time 
periods. Still etched upon the early modern female corpus 
were traces of the Christian interior soul of the Medieval 
celibate. This earlier inscription, however, was being 
overwritten, occluded by a feminine gesturology that marked 
the exterior soul of the early modern woman whose regulated 
movements silently foreshadowed the highly-disciplined 
eighteenth-century individual, one maximum efficiency would 
serve a modern capitalist economy. 

The female body of the seventeenth century, whose 
"habite of the minde may be best discerned by the carriage 
of the body," 106 was a transitional body whose "euery 
motion, action, posture, gesture" 107 became the site of 
change. This highly-individuated body would ultimately 
serve Mammon, not God, still maintaining the patriarchal 
hegemony that had reigned prior to its fashioning and would 
continue to rule during its refashioning. Lawrence Stone 
argues, in fact, that patriarchy in the middling and upper 
classes was strengthened during the Early Modern Period. 
Although patriarchy was no longer undergirded by the 
kinship and clientage system, it was enhanced by both the 

106 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, "A Compendious Table. 

107 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 6. 


ideology of Church and State, as I discuss above. While 
Stone says this strengthening cannot be proven, he believes 
it a highly plausible theory insofar as patriarchy relied 
less on "raw power or legal authority" and more on a 
"recognition by all concerned of its legitimacy, hallowed 
by ancient tradition, moral theology and political 
theory." 108 The "minute disciplines" of a woman's gendered 
and gesturing body became the platform on which the 
"asymmetry of power" between men and women rested. 
Although this feminized body would become the site of its 
own discipline, it would, nevertheless, continue to be 
considered inferior, both materially and ontologically. 
Indeed, it is because of its weak nature that a female body 
must discipline itself in an effort to overcome its innate 
infirmities in the guise of a Christian morality. Each 
gesture, therefore, became a tacit mea culpa, an admission 
of that body's natural inferiority. Moreover, each gesture 
became a means of "formalization" of the female individual 
within male-dominant power relations. 109 Inherent in this 
coding of the female body was its requirement to remain 
outside the public arena as the marginalized and privatized 



Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, 109. 

See Foucault's discussion, in Discipline & Punish, of power 
relations in regard to the "examination," 189-91. 


Other. Women, one conduct book author says, "may be in 
security, so long as [they] are sequestred from society." 110 
"Chastity" is, after all, "an inclosed Garden." 111 The 
cellular home of the nuclear family and the gesturally- 
obedient body served to twice enclose the seventeenth 
century woman. 

110 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 43. 

111 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 42. 


In early modern drama, the female characters' bodily 
comportment reflects the strictures promulgated in 
contemporary conduct books. The dramatic representations 
performed for the Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences are 
what Susan Zimmerman refers to as "primary decoders" of 
prevailing "hegemonic attitudes" 1 and what I believe 
manifest the early modern masculine ideal of a woman, most 
clearly evidenced through codified feminine gestures. 
Although the comic heroines seemingly survive by their 
uncanny wit 2 and the cross-dressed seat of their pants, they 
nevertheless display their "femininity" through a gendered 
gesturology . 

Michael Shapiro suggests that transvestite boy actors 
playing the roles of female characters disguised as pages 
had to continually remind their audience that they were 

1 Susan Zimmerman, introduction, Erotic Politics: Desire on the 
Renaissance stage, ed. by Zimmerman (New York: Routledge, 1992) 7. 

2 Valerie Wayne, introduction, The Matter of Difference: Materialist 
Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. by Wayne (New York: Harvester 
Wheatsheaf, 1991). Wayne discusses how groupings of essays in this 
text "call into question earlier, more formalist accounts of the 
comedies as providing a haven of possibilities for women" (12) . I 
support this reassessment of Shakespeare's comic heroines and argue 
that their feminine gesturology belies their ostensible wit and power. 



women and not boy actors playing the roles of female pages. 
Therefore, Shapiro says, the talented play-boys did so 
through a display of sartorial shame or "self- 
referentiality."3 This is a possibility, since some of the 
dramas required layer upon layer of disguise. However, the 
early modern English spectator was well-accustomed to the 
theatrical tradition of an all-male cast and had long 
accepted young boys in female roles. While an English 
traveler may have seen actresses on the continental or even 
English stage, this seems to prove the exception. 4 The all- 
male cast, rooted in Greek theater, could have been a 
reinstantiation of a theatrical practice begun as early as 
the fifth century BC. 5 It appears that the Renaissance 

3 Michael Shapiro, introduction, Gender in Play on the Shakespearean 
Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 
1994). Shapiro believes that boy actors playing the roles of women who 
were, in turn, disguised as pages, had to remind their audience that 
they were women characters. He says the female character disguised as 
a page would most likely look no differently than the boy actor. 
Therefore, the boy actor qua cross-dressed female character had to 
employ a gesturology than marked him as a woman to alleviate spectator 

Stephen Orgel, Impersonations: Performance of Gender in Shakespeare's 
England (Cambridge, 1996) . Orgel argues that there were many 
exceptions to the English theatrical tradition of an all-male cast. 
However, he does not cite enough examples to convince me that there 
were enough exceptions to disprove the rule. 

Sue-Ellen Case, Feminism and Theatre (New York: Methuen, 1988). Case 
tracks the all-male cast back to the Athenian theater: "In the sixth 
century, both women and men participated in [Athenian festivals of 
Dionysos], but during the fifth century, when the ceremonies were 
becoming what is known as theatre, women disappeared from the practice" 
(7). She argues that changing socio-economic conditions resulted in 
the emergence of the new "cultural codes of Athens" (8) as reflected in 
theatrical practice. As the city state emerged, the old, aristocratic 


interest in classical drama may have influenced the English 
in maintaining their practice of clearing the stage of 
female actors. 

In such an environment, boy actors had an opportunity 
to display their acting expertise, or what Shapiro terms 
"theatrical vibrancy" when playing their cross-gendered 
roles. 6 Shapiro believes that these roles accentuated the 
boy actor's virtuosity while adding depth and strength to 
the female character. For the most part, Shapiro remains 
within the theatrical world and makes little commentary on 
how such representations of women reflected the material 
and ideological circumstances surrounding such productions. 
In one sense, these multi-gendered roles blurred gender 
boundaries, subverting the dominant ideology and the 
contesting hegemonies; 7 in another sense, they reinscribed 

extended family paled in the light of the single-family unit that 
supported the polls and functioned as the "site for the creation and 
transmission of personal wealth" (9). Women were moved out of the 
public sphere and into the private one, relegated to the gendered roles 
of housekeeper and reproductive vessel and alienated from the 
political, economic, and social world of men. Women were further 
alienated from the cultural world as well, forbidden to appear on the 
public stage. Real women were represented exclusively by men both in 
the written dramatic text and in the performance of female roles. 
While I do not want to make a facile correlation, this scenario, none 
the less, is strikingly similar to the one found in early modern 

6 Shapiro, Gender in Play, 133. 

7 See Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle (New York: 
Routledge, 1994) and Marjorie Garber, Vested Interests: Cross-dressing 
and Cultural Anxiety (New York: Routledge, 1992) . 


those same male-dominant hegemonies. A boy actor always 

played the female character; a male body, therefore, was 

always at the "bottom" of a multi-gendered role, 

constituting the originary layer upon which all subseguent 

parts were predicated. Shapiro writes that the potentially 

disruptive nature of the boy-heroine/female-page plays was 

countered through boy-players' utilization of self- 

referentiality, a reminder to the audience that the female 

character was being played by a male. Additionally, 

Shapiro says that any disruption of gender roles would have 

been countered by the theatrical space in which these 

representations were confined. 8 

What's more, as Catherine Belsey points out in her 

readings of Shakespearean plays, these dramas 

reveal with great subtlety the shifts 
that language is put to in defense of a 
Renaissance masculinity which so 
engrosses meaning to itself that it 
constantly risks the exclusion of its 
defining other. 9 

As much as the play-boy's deftness at negotiating each of 

his character's layers of identity might have strengthened 

the role of a female character, that character was, 

B Shapiro, Gender in Play. 

3 Catherine Belsey, "A Future for Materialist Feminist Criticism?" in 
The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of 
Shakespeare, ed. Valerie Wayne (New York: Harvester Wheatheaf, 1991) 


nevertheless, occluded by the play-boy's performance. 
Indeed, woman was ultimately excluded as her material body 
was removed from the stage and re-presented by the body of 
a boy actor. As Susan Zimmerman suggests, "The theatre was 
a male preserve, the transvestite acting convention a 
confirmation of it." 10 

But once the stage was cleared of women's bodies and 
left with their male representations, how did the actors 
create a convincing portrayal of the opposite sex? In 
regard to Athenian theater, Case suggests that in addition 
to the donning of the female costume and mask, replete with 
long hair, a male actor "might have indicated gender 
through gesture, movement and intonation." 11 Because this 
representation of woman is created and performed by men, 
Case believes it could not reflect a female experience, 
only a masculine perspective of that experience. The 
"vocabulary of gestures," then would have "initiated the 
image of 'Woman' as she is seen on the stage- 
institutionalised through patriarchal culture and 

Susan Zimmerman, "Disruptive desire: Artifice and Indeterminacy in 
Jacobean comedy," Erotic Politics: Desire on the Renaissance stage (New 
York: Routledge, 1992) 39-63. Zimmerman argues that in spite of the 
male-dominant Renaissance "unisexual model," (42) gender identity was 
always in question. It would appear that by inculcating women with a 
feminine gesturology, the gender boundaries being transgressed could be 
re-established more firmly and in accordance to masculine standards. 

11 Case, Feminism and Theatre, 11. 


represented by male-originated signs of her appropriate 
gender behaviour."" As a result of this formalized and 
theatricalized representation of women, a "subtextual 
message was delivered about the nature of the female 
gender, its behaviour, appearance, and formal distance from 
the representation of the male."" In the Renaissance, the 
renewed interest in classical literature resurrected this 
subtextual message 14 as it was expressed in the redeployment 
of a highly-stylized set of feminine gestures both on the 
stage through drama and off the boards through conduct 
books . 

Through her blushes, averted glances, mincing steps, 
and other outward signs, the cross-dressed female character 
reminded the spectators that, within the context of the 
drama, she was a woman with short-lived power. Temporarily 
bestowed upon her was an "unnatural" capacity that 
discomfited her and that she would shed as expeditiously as 


Case, Feminism and Theatre, 11 

13 Case, Feminism and Theatre, 11, 


Case, in Feminism and Theatre, writes, "The 'classics' of Athenian 
Roman and Elizabethan drama were all produced by cultures that denied 
women access to the stage and allowed them few legal and economic ' 
rights. The values of a patriarchal society are embedded in the texts 
of these periods" (12) . 


Shakespeare's Julia wishes to shed her "immodest raiment." 15 
Indeed, the heightened wit, sense of purpose, and self- 
confidence female characters display as they saunter 
through their Elizabethan adventures is evident most often 
when they don a male disguise. The "undercover" woman who 
appears to have attained ascendancy in her social space 
only reinscribes a model of feminine socialization upon her 
body as she self-consciously gestures toward her femininity 
and its inherent fear of being discovered as a "fraud." 
The female character's transvestitism, therefore, 
underscores the Renaissance presumption of woman as weak 
and vulnerable, rendering the comic heroine's sartorial 
slippage innocuous. The boy actor may be reminding the 
audience that beneath his attire lurks a female character; 
however, the spectators are advised correspondingly of that 
female character's sense of displacement and of her 
discomfort with her stuffed codpiece and resultant license 
to authorize the actions of other characters. Insofar as 
she is continually marking her own social position through 
self-censure and gesturology, a female character, and by 
implication, the gender she represents, is never liberated 
from a putatively "natural" inferior status. 

15 The Two Gentlemen of Verona, V.iv.106. All quotations from 
Shakespeare are from The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. David 
Bevington. (Glenview, ILL: Scott, Foresman, 1980.) 


In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Lucetta tells Julia 
that she needs to be fitted not only for a pair of breeches 
but also for a codpiece, an ornamented one at that! Julia 
considers her transvestism immodest but will endure 
whatever shame her costume imposes on her in order to 
reunite with Proteus. The codpiece both elicits the 
required sense of modesty from the chaste Julia, and evokes 
the audience's awareness that Julia is a masculine 
representation and idealization of the chaste and 
submissive woman. 16 The fictional character of Julia finds 
herself sandwiched between the male actor who is portraying 
her as well as the male character she is portraying. 
Encased by the masculine, the female character is 
diminished and devalued. Foremost on stage is a male body 
playing a masculine representation of a woman constructed 
by a male-encoded series of gestures. Julia's bodily 
comportment speaks of an inherent female inferiority as 
Julia discovers she is incapable of wearing male attire and 
assuming the authority it bears. Like the women readers of 
conduct books, Julia engages in the internalization of her 

16 Case, in Feminism and Theatre, in discussing the role of the satyr in 
Athenian state festivals, writes, "The gender-specific quality of the 
actor in the satyr play was even underscored by his wearing of a 
leather phallus. Thus, the actor/dramatic subject was male" (11). 
Indeed, a dozen dancing satyrs reappear on the Elizabethan stage in 


inferior nature and believes she is inadequate. She 
constantly judges herself through that internal mechanism 
and displays the product of her self-censure through her 
gestures . 

Once she arrives in Milan, Julia's physical 
transformation manifests itself beyond her attire as her 
once-fair skin, no longer "masked," tans from exposure to 
the sun. 17 She is disconcerted when she discovers she is 
"becoming" a man, believing her body is being threatened 
with desexualization and, ultimately, with annihilation. 18 
Her gendered body, no matter how constructed, or by whom, 
is after all, her only secure identity. Ania Loomba 

Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale during the sheep-shearing festival in 
Act IV, Scene iv. 

17 Carroll Camden, The Elizabethan Woman (Houston: Elsevier, 1952) . 
Camden writes that Elizabethan ladies wore masks when going outside to 
protect "what we should like to call the peaches and cream complexion" 
(181). However, Camden suggests that these masks were "perhaps...used as 
a method of covering defects and adding a little mystery" (181) . 
Camden's analysis reinscribes the Renaissance notion of a woman's body 
as both inherently defective and as sexual object and utilizes the 
mask, like the gesture, as an outward mark of the feminized body and 
its resultant stereotypes. The mask simultaneously conceals a woman's 
inferiorized body and elicits a masculine desire to reveal its apposite 
idealized body. Thus, the mask in the drama, in the conduct books, and 
in Camden's reinscriptive comments serves as a dual signifier: woman as 
inferior; woman as sexual object. 

18 Sandra Lee Bartky, Femininity and Domination (New York: Routledge, 
1990) . Bartky writes that "any political project which aims to 
dismantle the machinery that turns a female body into a feminine one 
may well be apprehended by a woman as something that threatens her with 
desexualization, if not outright annihilation" (77). While Julia's 
threatened loss of identity is not the result of a political project, 
she is, none the less fearful of becoming a "man" because her skin is 
darkening. Her loss of the feminine marker of pale, white skin signals 


believes female desire is repeatedly thwarted in Jacobean 
tragedy where a woman's containment is often exacerbated by 
her loss of identity. The unified female subject of 
"liberal-humanism" disappears as the tragic heroine 
experiences a loss of the essential self. 19 I would argue, 
however, that Julia as a comic heroine, fears this loss of 
identity as well. Because Julia has internalized her 
reputed inferior nature-displaying it through her feminine 
gesturology-she, like many of her Shakespearean 
counterparts, is unable to maintain her male disguise or 
her female identity. 

Julia also fears a permanent loss of her "lily- 
tincture [d] " 20 face and of a prescribed beauty, a loss that 
would seriously hamper her ability to win back Proteus who 
desires an idealized Renaissance feminine face and body in 
Silvia. Beauty, according to one conduct book, must not be 
neglected, especially by women, because the 

Faces of Men (especialy of Women) are 
(more than any other part of the Body) 
exposed to view, I will write of 
Medicines which adorn that part, by 
adding Comeliness and Beauty thereunto. 

for her the loss of her feminine body. Perhaps this is another reason 
she is so uncomfortable in her disguise. 

Ania Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama (Delhi: Oxford UP, 1992) 

20 Two Gentlemen, IV.iv.156. 


Beauty is a blessing which every one 
ought to preserve, and not to neglect. 21 

Since fair skin was greatly admired in Elizabethan women, 

the "condition of the skin was a source of anxiety to all 

ladies" who were to emulate the fair-skinned, trend-setting 

Queen Elizabeth. 22 Perhaps this is why one conduct book 

writer says "Good, is a fairer attribute then White." 23 

Yet, a woman could be both good and have the fashionable 

white skin and red cheeks, according to one conduct book 

author, if she exercised 

her body in workes belonging to her 
house, whereby she getteth a naturall 
coullour, and that vertuous vermillion, 
which falleth of neither with sweating, 
neither with weeping, nor with 
blowing.... 24 

Moreover, if a woman adhered to these injunctions, her 

husband, she is told, will "deny her no necessary thing 

belonging to the house." 25 It appears that this is a lesson 

Julia will soon learn. 

21 T.K. Doctor in Physick, The Kitchin-Physician: or, A Guide for Good- 
Housewives in Maintaining their Families in Health (London, 1680) 1. 

22 Camden, The Elizabethan Woman, 182. 

23 Richard Brathwaite, The Good Wife (London, 1619) n. pag. 

24 The Court of Good Counsell (London, 1607), Chapter XII. Here, I 
employ chapter numbers since the pagination is difficult to follow. 

25 Court, Chapter XII. 


Of far greater concern, however, is the condition of a 
woman's soul reflected in her modest behavior. Women were 
led to believe that, should they fail to comport themselves 
appropriately, the skin pigmentation would be the least of 
their concerns. One conduct book writer explains that a 
woman's physiology can alter should she overexert herself 
and cause her menses to cease. He claims that the 
"Viragoes and virill women" who consume an overabundance of 

through their heat and strength of 
nature digest and consume all their 
last nourishment; as Hippocrates writes 
of Phaetusa, who being exiled by her 
husband Pythea, her termes were 
supprest, her voyce changed, and had a 
beard, with a countenance like a man. 
But these I judge rather to be 
Anthropophage, women-eaters, than 
women-breeders, because they consume 
one of the principles of generation, 
which gives a being to the world, viz. 
the menstruous bloud. 26 

Mobile women do not menstruate. As a result, they are 
incapable of fulfilling their destined role as "women- 
breeders" and are like men, or "Viragoes." Indeed, non- 
menstruating women can become men, like the exiled 
Phaetusa. What's more, they are Anthropophage, cannibals, 
because their activity consumes the blood that would make 

26 John Sadler, The Sick Womans Private Looking-Glasse (London, 1636) 


them fertile. In other words, they eat their young. i n 
Sadler's text, woman becomes the not-so-noble savage of 
colonialist discourse. No wonder Julia is anxious about 
her physical condition. 

At the same time Julia notices her metamorphosis, she 
studies Silvia's picture, comparing herself with her more 
"feminine" rival. Julia realizes that, if she is to be 
loved, she must initiate yet another transformation: 

Come, shadow, come, and take this shadow up, 
For 'tis thy rival. thou senseless form, 
Thou shalt be worshiped, kiss'd, lov'd, and 

ador ' d ! 
And, were there sense in his idolatry, 
My substance should be statue in thy stead. 27 

As a beautiful icon, Silvia is worshipped by Proteus. 
Had Proteus read the conduct books that give men advice on 
choosing a wife, he would have realized that his 
"continuall heart-sore" could be comforted by "neither 
curious pictures, nor coin. "28 while men are advised not tQ 
choose their wives for "a fat portion, or a faire please either their lasciuious affection, or 
their couetous mind, "^ Proteus obviously eschews such 

27 Two Gentlemen, IV. iv. 196-200 . 

lL^Tl 3 GatakSr ' A Maria( ? e Praler > or Succinct Meditations (London, 

29 Gataker, A Mariage Praier, 21. 


advice. He appears to be struck by Silvia's beauty or, 
more precisely, its representation. Perhaps, too, he is 
calculating Silvia's potential dowry. Her father is, after 
all, the Duke of Milan. Whatever his reasoning, he spurns 
the faithful Julia as soon as he is out of her sight. 
Julia believes that, in order to gain back Proteus 's love, 
she must reconstitute herself and become a feminine 
"senseless form" as well. Her ingenuity and wit may have 
gotten her within close proximity of her lover, but Julia 
can regain Proteus ' s affection only as a static, feminized 
body. In order to be looked upon by Proteus once more, 
Julia must conform to a male-desired representation of the 

At the end of the play, both Julia and Silvia continue 
to perform as statues as they find themselves defenseless 
against Proteus' s actions. Unlike Julia's sexual desires 
that had to be quelled at the onset of the play, Proteus' s 
sexuality is aggressively displayed as he lunges toward his 
cowering victim. Silvia's recourse is to cry to the 
heavens, only to be rescued by the earth-bound Valentine 
who forgives his friend as quickly as he had condemned him 
for his "rude uncivil touch. "™ In an incredible display of 

30 Two Gentlemen, V.iv.60, 


magnanimity, Valentine offers up Silvia to Proteus. As a 
result, Julia swoons and falls to the ground, a distraught 
bundle of helplessness. Here, Julia's "essential feminine" 
qualities surface in her bodily comportment; they cannot be 
contained by her costume. Her fallen, limp body discloses 
her femininity, forcing her to reveal her true identity. 
After doing so, she chastises Proteus for his inconstancy. 
None the less, she takes back her disingenuous lover, even 
after he has as much as wished her dead 31 and attempted to 
rape her rival. Revealed as a woman through her feminizing 
gestures, Julia is outwitted and disempowered. 

In the final scene, the women stand by silently and, 
most likely, motionlessly, as they are sorted out amongst 
Thurio, the Duke, Proteus, and Valentine. Already trained 
to be the chaste, silent, and obedient wife of the conduct 
books, Julia accepts Proteus ' s inconstancy just as Silvia 
accepts Valentine's offering her up as a token of his 
friendship to Proteus. Their physical passivity 
demonstrates Julia's and Silvia's emotional and economic 
dependence on the men who are trading them back and forth. 
As their bodies tacitly agree, the women accept the men 
with whom they are paired, no matter what the men's 

31 Proteus, in IV.ii.102, tells Silvia, "I grant, sweet love, that I did 
love a lady, But she is dead." Proteus knows otherwise. 


shortcomings. A woman, one conduct book author suggests, 

without a "meeke and a quiet spirit" is problematic, for 

her disposition is reflected in her bodily comportment: 

"And indeed what comfortable conuersation or cohabitation 

can there be with one otherwise affected, with one of a 

crooked and a crabbed cariage?" 32 Ju i ia ' s mobility may not 

have transformed her into a man, but she must continue to 

be meek, in spite of Proteus' s behavior, lest her body 

contort as a result of an unruly feminine nature. 

If it becomes necessary for a wife to admonish her 

husband, that correction must be "gentle." She is advised 

in rhymed instruction: 

Do what thou canste him to allure 
To seke god by godly lyueynge 
And certenly thou shalt be sure 
Of lyfe that is euerlastynge . 33 

Another conduct book author suggests that husbands 

must root out of their lives--among other things— adultery, 

gambling, and drunkenness. 34 Nevertheless, if this "rooting 

32 Gataker, A Mariage Praier, 20, 

33 Robert Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet (London 1549) n. pag. 

34 Edmund Tilney, in A Brief and Pleasant Discourse of Duties in 

Marriage called...The Flower of Friendshippe (London, 1568), provides a 

rather startling example of a wife who, noticing that her husband's 

extra-curricular accommodations were "very homely" (139), became 

concerned that some harm might befall him as a result. She disguises 

herself as her husband's sister and refurbishes the harlot's home 

When the husband surmises what his wife has done, he returns home 

oversome by hir vertue" (139) and content to live with his spouse 
thereafter. r 


out" is not entirely successful, a wife must continue to be 

obedient to her recalcitrant husband, hoping her exemplary 

life will reform him. A third conduct book suggests: 

Now when thou arte become a wife 
And hast an housbande to thy minde 
Se thou prouoke him not to stryfe 
Lest haply he do proue unkynde. 35 

Julia must be careful not to provoke an already unstable 

individual who will become her husband and from whom she 

will derive her exclusive identity. And if she does not 

perform her domestic functions appropriately, she will be 

deemed a "bad wife," not just by her husband but by God. 

God esteems a bad wife as "no Wife; yea, as no Woman; for 

the same word signifieth either. 36 a "bad wife," according 

to a conduct book author and God, is a wife whose "pietie, 

honesty, sobriety, modesty, and wisdome are wanting. A bad 

Wife is as no Wife in Gods account." 31 Worse yet, a bad 

wife is "a Shadow without Substance; shee hath a Title 

without Truth: She beareth the Name; but doth not the Worke 

of a Wife." 36 Only a productive wife has value. While on 

35 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag. 

36 Thomas Gataker, "A Wife in Deed, " A Good Wife Gods Gift and A Wife 
Indeed: Two Mariage Sermons, (London, 1623), 21. 

37 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 6. 

38 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 6. 


the one hand, a wife is to be silent and gesturally- 

obedient; on the other hand, she is to be continually 

productive, lest she become an idol: 

Surely, as St. lames saith, that Faith 
without Fruits is liuelesse and dead, 
as a Body without Breath: such Faith is 
no Faith indeed, but a meere Carcasse 
of Faith: So a Wife without Works shee 
that beareth a Wiues Name, but doth not 
a Wiues worke, is no Wife indeed, but a 
liuelesse Image of a Wife.... 39 

A wife's identity is the result of the invisible labor she 

performs for her husband. Indeed, her very ontology is 

attributed to her spouse: 

Againe, A Wife is as a part, or a limbe 
of her husband. As Children are said 
to be part of their Parents; because 
they haue their being originally from 
them: So the Woman may well bee said to 
bee a part or limbe of Man, because 
shee had her beginning and her being 
originally from him. 40 

Having been taken from man, the only way a woman can be 

made whole again is to be "as a limbe restored now and 

fastned againe to him."^ Reunited to the man from whom she 

purportedly originates, a woman fastens her body to her 

husband's, losing herself to him. Attached to and directed 

by her "host," she lives in his corporeal margins, 

39 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 7. 

40 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 8. 

41 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 9. 


paradoxically attaining her selfhood by relinquishing it. 
One wonders how different this is from the bad wife who is 
"a Shadow without Substance." The ideal married couple, 
says one conduct book, is when "Mariage doth re-vnite" 
these types of Adam and Eve and make "them both but one 
Hermaphrodite." While the both become one, it is clear 
from the conduct book injunctions that the husband will 
rule the singular body. The final scene of Two Gentlemen 
seems to bear this out. 

In Twelfth Night, Viola, shipwrecked and washed onto 
the shore of Illyria, believes that her brother Sebastian 
has drowned and that she is alone in a strange New World. 
To protect herself until she has made her "own occasion 
mellow," 42 Viola asks the surviving captain of the lost ship 
to conceal her identity; to introduce her to Orsino, Duke 
of Illyria, as a eunuch; and to "shape [his] silence to 
[her] wit." 43 Alone without a male protector, Viola must 
become a man, albeit a castrated one, to survive 
undefiled. 44 Olivia, recently bereft of father and brother, 

42 Twelfth Night, I.ii.43. 

43 Twelfth Night, I.ii.61. 

44 Stephen Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl," Erotic Politics: 
Desire on the Renaissance Stage (New York: Routledge, 1992) 12-26. 
Orgel says that Renaissance "literary heroines often disguise 
themselves as males, but the transvestism is invariably represented not 


withdraws emotionally from her suitor the Duke and 

physically within her estate. Juxtaposed against Viola and 

Olivia is Sir Toby Belch, Olivia's uncle, who refuses to 

confine himself "within the modest limits of order," 45 as 

Olivia's gentlewoman Maria puts it. Sir Toby never forgoes 

his "quaffing and drinking" 46 while living off the largesse 

of his morose niece who has been mourning her dead brother 

for the past twelve months. 

Viola, on the other hand, receives the Duke's 

permission to be "clamorous and leap all civil bounds." 47 

However, this unladylike behavior is sanctioned only when 

Viola, disguised as Cesario, is wooing Olivia on the Duke's 

behalf. Conduct books admonish maids and young unmarried 

women 48 to restrain themselves from such physicality. In 

order to maintain a good reputation, maids must 

refrain themselves from keeping company 
with light, vain, and wanton persons, 
whose delight is in fleshly and filthy 
pastimes, as singing, dancing, leaping, 

as a provocation but as a protection, and, more strikingly, as an index 
to virtue, a way for women to live or travel in safety" (18). 

45 Twelfth Night, I.iii.7-8. 

46 Twelfth Night, I.iii.14. 

47 Twelfth Night, I.iv.21. 

48 The subtitle of Becon's The Catachism is "Of the Duty of Maids and 
Young Unmarried Women," (367). Here, Becon instructs women to behave 
in much the same manner as wives, obviously in preparation for their 
singular destiny. 


skipping, playing, kissing, whoring, 
&c. 49 

So abhorrent to this author are the acts of "leaping" and 

"skipping," that he includes them in a series of verbs 

concluded by "whoring." One conduct book concludes, "It is 

no hard thing to gather the disposition of our heart, by 

the dimension of our gate." 50 A woman's gait facilely 

publishes her innermost thoughts as the "tinkling of the 

feet" indicates "light thoughts" while a "jetting and 

strutting pace" displays a "hauty and selfe-conceited 

minde." 51 Indeed, wanton bodies display folly so openly 

that it is "as if [women] had transparant bodies." 52 

Juxtaposed against active, wanton bodies, is the 

female domesticated body whose duties are clearly 

delineated as those that do not require exertion, just time 

and enclosure within the home. One conduct book author 

49 Becon, The Catachism, 368. Barnebie Rich, in The Honestie of this 
Age (London, 1614), writes that "Licurgus ordayned the Laconian women 
the exercise of their limmes, as running, leaping, wrastling, heauing, 
and throwing of waights." However, he is using this as a comparison to 
the women of his times who he says are "trained vp in Idlenesse, in 
ignorance, in pride, in delicacy" and who will, as a result bear weak 
children. The Laconian women, of the other hand, used exercise to 
"increase their vigor and strength, that their propagation and ofspring 
might be the more strong and sturdie" (49). Rich permits exercise only 
in the context of woman's role as propagator. 

50 Richard Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman (London, 1631) 82. 

51 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 82. 

52 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 82. 


says that Solomon's mother advised her son to seek a wife 
who could employ the needle and the spindle to make her 
husband's, her children's, and her own apparel. In 
contrast to such a model are the Benjaminite women who 
"came out piping and dancing" and who were the antithesis 
of a good wife. 53 The good wife does sedentary work within 
her domicile; she does not dance, she spins. 54 Clearly, 
Viola's excessive motions will cease once she marries the 

Viola's leaping reflects the masculine authority 
bestowed upon her as the Duke's page commissioned by her 

Therefore, good youth, address thy 
gait unto her; 

53 Gataker, in A Mariage Praier, bases his conclusion on the biblical 
story found in Genesis 24: 12-14 in which Abraham's servant Eleazer 
seeks a wife for Abraham's son, Jacob. Gataker' s subheading reads, 
"Housewifely offices are not disgrace to any woman," and he supports 
this supposition with the fact that Eleazer found Jacob's future wife, 
Rachel, drawing water for her father's sheep. Her father Laban was a 
prosperous sheepherder. Likewise, Moses found the Prince of Midian's 
daughters performing the same task. Even though these women came from 
well-to-do families, their menial labor was not considered a disgrace. 
In fact, Gataker argues, such work is "a grace and a credit" for a 
woman (18). The Office of Christian Parents (1616) poses a similar 
argument. The anonymous author writes that all properly-raised 
daughters must be trained so "they shall see further into their 
natures, and more easily learne what need they haue of marriage" (139) . 
Indeed, even King David's daughter "could handle the frying pan" (139). 

54 According to Gataker, in A Mariage Praier, even the great Ceasar 
Augustus wore apparel exclusively "made in his owne house by his wife, 
his sister, his daughter, and his neeces among them" (18). A woman's 
"trade" and the "end of her creation" is "to be an assistant and an 
helper vnto him, in the managing of such domesticall and houshold 
affaires" (19) . 


Be not denied access, stand at her 

And tell them, there thy fixed foot 

shall grow 
Till thou have audience. 55 

As a man, Viola can employ an authoritative gait and sense 

of determination to proclaim both the Duke's love and his 

male supremacy. Ironically, the Duke believes that because 

"all is semblative a woman's part," 56 in Viola/Cesario, his 

youthful nuncio will be able to act out the Duke's lovesick 

woes . 

While the cross-dressed Viola appears "saucy at 

[Olivia's] gates," 57 her masculine bravado is quickly 

deflated by her feminine tongue that "speaks very 

shrewishly. " 58 Assuredly, the audience is reminded that the 

young messenger is a female character in disguise. More 

importantly, however, the spectators are apprised of the 

character's gender through a pronouncement of her 

stereotypically feminine qualities. As the disguised Viola 

discusses her father's daughter, she tells the Duke that 

her love caused her to sit "like Patience on a monument, 

55 Twelfth Night, I. iv. 15-17. 

56 Twelfth Night, I.iv.34. 

57 Twelfth Night, I. v. 193. 

58 Twelfth Night, I. v. 157. 


Smiling at grief." 59 As a woman, Viola, like Patience, must 
passively accept her fate and transform her body into 
stone, lest she be labeled a "shrew." 

Maria, unlike Olivia, circulates freely throughout the 
community, and, unlike Viola, need not be cross-dressed to 
accomplish this. Apparently Sir Toby, who claims he could 
"marry this wench for this device," 60 [her clever duping of 
Malvolio with her plagarized letter] , is attracted to Maria 
for her wit not for her "shamefast" behavior. She is the 
antithesis of the Sara of the Latin Vulgate who, before she 
married Tobias, "gave herself busily unto prayer, insomuch 
that we read, that at a certain time she went up into an 
high chamber of her father's house, and there continued in 
prayer unto God...." 61 While Sir Toby admires Maria for her 
wit, he undermines the compliment by demonizing her for it 
as well: "To the gates of Tartar, thou most excellent 
devil of wit!" 62 Maria is treading on dangerous ground 
since she both speaks and acts independently. 

If a young woman behave too independently, circulating 
freely outside of her domestic sphere, she risks suffering 

59 Twelfth Night, II . iv. 114-15 . 

60 Twelfth Night, II. v. 178. 

61 Becon, The Catachism, 367. 

62 Twelfth Night, II. v. 201. 


the same fate as Jacob's daughter Dina in Genesis who was 
raped by her brother. For, as one conduct book author 

Lastly, wee call the wife Huswife, that 
is, house-wife, not a street-wife, one 
that gaddeth vp and downe, like Tamer: 
nor a fieldwife, like Dinah, but a 
housewife: to shew that a good wife, 
keepes her house, and therefore Paul 
biddeth Titus, to exhort women that 
they bee chaste, and keeping at home: 
presently after chaste, hee saith, 
keeping at home: as though home were 
chastities keeper. 63 

To keep a maid's passions from kindling and her body "low," 

she should maintain a moderate diet through drinking "pure 

water, or else thin ale, or small beer" and maintaining a 

"slender, simple, and homely diet." 64 Such a diet reflects 

the requirements for a maid's chaste behavior, physical 

size, and bodily proximity. A spare diet not only quenches 

a woman's sexual desire, it also prolongs life: "Yea, 

abstinence auaileth much for preseruing health of body and 

length of life." 65 While a spare diet is supposedly 

healthy, it also diminishes a woman's body, reducing the 

amount of space it occupies. Paradoxically, while sexual 

63 Robert Cleaver. A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement 
(London, 1598), 218. 

64 Becon, The Catachism, 369 (emphasis mine) . 

65 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 140. 


abstinence preserves a virgin's good health, the opposite 
obtains for a married woman. She is to be fruitful and 
multiply to enjoy longevity. 66 Of course, the opposite was 
often the case. Women often died from complication due to 
childbirth, and were well aware of the risks involved. 67 

As Viola continues to circulate between the Duke's and 
Olivia's residences, she rehearses her womanhood for the 
benefit of the audience. Fearful she will be forced to 
take part in a duel with Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Viola prays 
that God will defend her against her opponent. She 
proclaims, "A little thing would make me tell them how much 
I lack of a man." 68 Although she imitates her brother in 
dress, her empty codpiece belies Viola's "lack" as she 
cowers from battle. Her twin brother, identical in stature 
to Viola, having been mistaken for her, displays no fear 
when he is drawn into battle against Sir Andrew. Sebastian 
strikes his opponent and then draws his dagger only to be 

66 Nicholas Fontanus, The Momans Doctour: or an Exact and Distinct 
Explanation of all such Diseases as are Peculiar to that Sex (London: 
1652) . 

67 See Patricia Crawford, "The Construction and Experience of Maternity 
in Seventeenth-Century England," 3-38 and Linda Pollock, "Embarking on 
a Rough Passage: the Experience of Pregnancy in Early-Modern Society," 
39-67. Both articles are in Women as Mothers in Pre-Industrial 
England: Essays in Memory of Dorothy McLaren, ed. Valerie Fildes (New 
York: Routledge, 1990) . 

68 Twelfth Night, III . iv. 302-03 . 


restrained by Sir Toby. When Sebastian breaks loose, he 
draws his sword and challenges Sir Toby to a duel. One 
could argue that Sir Andrew is no braver than Viola, and 
this is true. Sir Andrew, however, is presented as a poor 
excuse for a man; he is stupid, bungling, inarticulate, and 
physically inept. The important comparison, however, is 
between the apparently identical twins whose physical 
appearance confuses everyone in the play. Viola, even 
though in the guise of a man, is marked and delimited by 
her feminine gesturology. She sits stone-like, 
contemplating her love for the Duke and cowers in fear when 
challenged to a duel. Her disguise may have won her some 
authority, but her comportment underscores her feminine 
need for masculine protection. Sebastian, on the other 
hand, is undaunted by either Sir Andrew or Sir Toby as he 
confidently swaggers about his physical space, drawing 
weapons and issuing counter-challenges. 

Olivia, too, comports herself like a woman, and it is 
her carriage that marks her sanity. Olivia, having 
mistaken Sebastian for Viola/Cesario, declares her love for 
Sebastian and gives him a pearl as a token of her love. 
Confused over Olivia's sudden declaration, Sebastian 
contemplates the event: 

That this may be some error, but no 


Yet doth this accident and flood of 

So far exceed all instance, all 

That I am ready to distrust mine eyes 
And wrangle with my reason that 

persuades me 
To any other trust but that I am mad, 
Or else the lady's mad. Yet, if 'twere 

She could not sway her house, command 

her followers, 
Take and give back affairs and their 

With such a smooth, discreet, and 

stable bearing 
As I perceive she does. 69 

Olivia is the epitome of stability; she is smooth and 

discreet, unruffled as she governs her household, a 

household within which she will remain once she marries 

Sebastian. As one conduct books puts it: 

What so euer is to be done without the 
house, that belongeth to the ma[n], & 
the woma[n] to studye for thinges 
within to be done, and to be saued or 
spent conueniently whatsoeuer he 
bringeth in. 

The wyues workynge place is wythyn her 
howse ther to ouersee and to set all 
thinge in good order, and to beware 
that nothynge be loste, seldome to go 
forth, but when urge[n]t causes calle 
hir forth. 70 

69 Twelfth Night, IV. iii . 10-20 . 

70 Heinrich Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony [Antwerp, 1541] 
Chapter 18. 


Both Olivia and Viola cannot but help to display the 

"mettle of [their] sex," and their "soft and tender 

breeding," 71 cross-dressed or not. And if a woman's 

behavior is otherwise, such as Maria's, she becomes the 

devil incarnate, an unnatural thing, displaced from her 

"nest." Delineating spousal duties, Bullinger writes: 

And as the damme kepeth the nest, 
hatcheth the egges, & bringe forth the 
frute, so let them bothe lerne to do of 
the unreasonable fowles or bestes 
created of god naturally to observe 
theyr sondrye propertyes . 72 

It is no mistake that Bullinger utilizes the term 

"naturally" and draws an analogy from "unreasonable fowles 

or bestes" to remind women of their proper physical and 

social place. Because women were considered closer to 

nature than men, they were deemed less rational creatures 

and, like animals, required training in order to be 

domesticated. Indeed, a woman could be happy only by 

observing her "sondrye propertyes." Viola and Olivia 

eventually go to their respective nests as the stereotyped 

females enclosed by their domiciles and gesturally-obedient 

bodies while Maria becomes an anathema to the men who 

observe her unrestricted, circulating self. 

71 Twelfth Night, V.i. 319-320. 

72 Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony, Chapter 18, 


Like Viola, Rosalind in Shakespeare's As You Like It 
cross-dresses and engages her wit and ingenuity to procure 
a husband. Like Viola, she redirects a misguided female 
lover toward her "appropriate" male partner. Her disguise 
also gives her license to describe women as the sex ill- 
favored by Fortune and stereotypically giddy, talkative, 
and weak. Like the Pharisees of the New Testament, 
Rosalind as Ganymede thanks God he is not a woman "to be 
touch' d with so many giddy offences as [God] hath generally 
tax'd their whole sex withal." 73 The self-referential 
Rosalind makes it clear that she, like Julia, is fragile 
and ashamed of her transvestitism: 

I could find in my heart to disgrace my 
man's apparel and to cry like a woman; 
but I must comfort the weaker vessel, 
as doublet and hose ought to show 
itself courageous to petticoat. 74 

As Bartky says, female stereotypes threaten a woman's 

autonomy both by their very existence and by their content. 

If women become too independent, as is the potential with 

Rosalind, they are denying their femininity. Their very 

autonomy threatens to occlude their womanhood. 75 According 

to Celia, Rosalind is playing her cross-dressed part all 


As You Like It, II . ii . 34 1-43 , 

74 As You Like It, II.iv.4-7. 

75 Bartky, Femininity and Domination, 24. 


too well: "You have simply misus'd our sex in your love 

prate. We must have your doublet and hose pluck' d over 

your head, and show the world what the bird hath done to 

her own nest." 76 Celia criticizes Rosalind for her 

misogynist statements, for "fowling" her own nest, so to 

speak. Although Rosalind fears she will disgrace her 

masculine apparel by crying like a woman, she also begins 

to acquire the mind of a man who believes his sex is the 

physically stronger and morally superior one. Rosalind 

seems to be displaying what many antitheatrical writers and 

conduct book authors fear: cross-dressing effects sex 

change. She not only looks like a man, but she also sounds 

like one as she, and many conduct book authors, reduces a 

woman to her "natural," irrational state. 

Rosalind finds herself in a double (t) bind: as a man, 

her wit becomes misogynistic and, therefore, self-critical; 

as a woman, her wit will make her an "unreasonable fowle," 

circulating beyond her nest. She comments, 

Make the doors upon a woman's wit, and 
it will out at the casement; shut that, 
and 'twill out at the key-hole; stop 
that, 'twill fly with the smoke out at 
the chimney. 77 

76 As You Like It, IV. i. 193-96. 

77 As You Like It, IV. i. 153-54. 


Implicit in this commentary is the masculine anxiety that 
an articulate, clever woman cannot be contained within the 
parameters of her domicile. Bird-like, or perhaps witch- 
like, she will "fly" up the chimney and out of her 
enclosure, threatening the status quo. As Ania Loomba 
says, the roaming, moving woman is the evil woman, hence, 
the witch on a broomstick. She writes, 

Patriarchal thought incorporates the 
possibility of female movement in order 
to control it, investing women's 
stability with moral values. Thus the 
wandering woman is evil, and it is no 
accident that witches are mobile, 
riding through the air on broomsticks. 78 

Furthermore, according to Rosalind, a woman uses her wit to 

make her husband the fool so that she does not breed one: 

"0, that woman that cannot make her fault her husband's 

occasion, let her never nurse her child herself, for she 

will breed it like a fool!" 79 A witty woman, then, is a 

78 Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama, 74. Loomba argues that the 
oppression of women creates the opposition of those very women to the 
dominant ideology. There is a great deal of evidence to support active 
female resistance from the Beguines of the Middle Ages to a tax revolt 
led by women during the reign of Charles I. While on the one hand, 
humanists believed women should be educated; on the other hand, they 
tended to further restrict the roles of women within a patriarchal 
society. Within these humanist prescriptions, there were enough 
contradictions to clear a space for female education. As a result, 
while Protestant and humanist doctrines employed logic and rational 
thinking to support such issues as self-fulfillment, they 
simultaneously had to justify woman's subordinate position. 
Ultimately, woman is seen as duplicitous and changeable, someone who 
must be kept within a patriarchal stasis. 

79 As You Like It, IV. i. 165-68. 


double threat to the dominant ideology for she can overstep 

her delimited physical space as well as deceive masculine 

authority with a "feminine" comportment. Lest the female 

spectators forget, Touchstone reminds them that 

transgressive women can be publicly chastised in the form 

of carting: 

If a hart do lack a hind, 

Let him seek out Rosalind. 

If the cat will after kind, 

So be sure will Rosalind. 

Wint ' red garments must be lin'd, 

So must slender Rosalind. 

They that reap must sheaf and bind; 

Then to cart with Rosalind. 80 

Certainly, there must have been a rebellious contingent of 

early modern women who refused to live by male standards, 

implicit in the various "punishments" meted out to them. 

One conduct book author decries the "women in this time" 

who will not follow sartorial regulations. He says, "such 

is their extreame rage and wilfulness." 81 But, like her 

counterparts, by the conclusion of the play, Rosalind has 

applied her wit to the same end: to find a husband. While 

Rosalind's wit is employed as an injunction against men who 

behave like Petrarchan lovesick wooers, it is also utilized 

J0 As You Like It, II . ii . 99-106. 

81 Edward Hake, A Touchstone for this Time Presently Declaring Such 
Ruines, Enormities, and Abuses as Trouble the Churche of God (London, 
1574. Norwood, NJ: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ltd., 1974) D4 . 


to reinscribe a gendered hierarchy. Rosalind, in one of 
her matchmaking enterprises, reminds Silvius of his 
superior status: 

"lis not her glass, but you, that 

flatters her, 
And out of you she sees herself more 

Than any of her lineaments can show 

her. 82 

As many of the conduct books suggest, a wife's countenance 
must be a reflection of her husband's psychological 
condition. It is only by mirroring her spouse that a wife 
can attain any social worth. Ruth Kelso writes, a perfect 
Renaissance man achieved the "highest human powers and 
graces" while the perfect woman "was the wife, married to a 
man well born and virtuous," and living in his reflected 
light. 83 Whether a woman is of noble birth or a member of 
the peasantry, her identity inheres in her spouse's. 

The mirror or "looking glass" is utilized also by 
conduct book writers as a metaphor for self-examination: 
"There is set downe a Paterne and a Precedent for thee. 
There is a Looking Glasse for thee. see thy selfe in, and 
to shew thee what thou art." 84 If the viewers find 


As You Like It, III . iv. 54-56 , 

83 Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of Renaissance (Urbana: U of 
Illinois P, 1956) 78. 


Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 13, 


themselves "faire and comely, they might be carefull to 
haue their cariage and courses correspondent...." 85 Gataker 
recommends that every married woman should, "if not once a 
day, or once a weeke, yet once a month at least seriously 
looke her selfe in this Glasse." 86 He suggests that few 
women follow this practice because they will find 
themselves lacking "as that old withered Harlot" did who 
"cast away her looking Glasse, because she could not 
therein see her selfe such as she would." 87 Implicit in 
this comment is the notion that women who refuse self- 
examination are whores. Indeed, wives who do not subject 
themselves to their husbands "will hardly proue Wiues; 
being Mistresses (as Ierome speaketh) rather than Wiues." 88 
Rosalind makes the requirement of a wife's subjection 
explicit as she turns her attention to Phebe, instructing 
her to display her obedience to her future husband through 
her gestures: 

But, mistress, know yourself. Down on 

your knees, 
And thank heaven, fasting, for a good 

man's love; 

85 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 13. 

86 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 13-14 

87 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 14. 

88 Gataker, "A Wife in Deed," 14. 


For I must tell you friendly in your 

Sell when you can, you are not for all 

markets . 
Cry the man mercy; love him, take his 

Foul is most foul, being foul to be a 

So take her to thee, shepherd. Fare 

you well. 89 

Rosalind, as discussed above, also admits to her 
inferior nature, using self-referentiality to undercut her 
male disguise and its accompanying wit. As the weaker 
vessel, she maintains a woman's stereotypical curiosity. 
She is impatient with Celia, wanting to know who has carved 
the love verses in the trees: "Good my complexion! Dost 
thou think, /though I am caparison' d like a man, I have a 
doublet/and hose in my disposition?" 90 Her essential 
feminine constitution makes her naturally curious and 
talkative. Although she is permitted to speak like a 
"saucy lackey," it is only "under that habit" 91 as Ganymede. 
Her loquacity must be contained once she sheds her 
masculine garments. A woman, as one conduct book says, was 
not to give "too free scope to that glibbery member." 92 

89 As You Like It, II. iv. 57-63, emphasis mine. 


As You Like It, III . ii . 191-93 . 

91 As You Like It, II.ii.292. 

92 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 89. 


Furthermore, another conduct book author admonishes women 
to avoid the company of "tatyllars," "babelars," or 
"gossepes" because their conversation is nothing but "false 
rumours," and lies. 93 Worse yet, the author warns his 
female readership that these women "will teach the to paynt 
thy face." 94 In other words, a woman must remain inside her 
home, satisfied with the company of her husband, children, 
and servants because female companions "are the deuelles 
ministres/Sent to destroye all honestie." 95 It is no wonder 
that Hero gives her clamorous cousin such an upbraiding. 
The chaste, silent, and obedient Hero fears she will be 
influenced by Rosalind's outlandish behavior, a behavior 
for which women are vilified by the conduct book writers. 

When Oliver presents Rosalind/Ganymede with the napkin 
soaked in Orlando's blood, Rosalind swoons and Oliver 
comments: "You a man? You lack a man's heart." 96 Although 
Rosalind attempts to explain away her behavior as 
"counterfeit," Oliver insists that her "complexion" betrays 
her. Her external signifiers attest to the "true" nature 
of her gender. Even if this self-referentiality uncovers a 

93 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag. 

94 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag. 

95 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag. 

96 As You Like It, IV. iii . 165-66 . 


boy actor beneath the multi-layered character, it seems a 
moot point in regard to a woman's stereotyped nature. 
Rosalind states that "boys and women are for the most part 
cattle of this color," 97 i.e., "effeminate, changeable, 
longing and liking, proud, fantastical, apish, shallow, 
inconstant, full of tears, full of smiles; for every 
passion something and for no passion truly anything." 98 
Moreover, the very bodies of the boy actors that 
represented women on the Shakespearean stage served to 
further an image of a woman's body as infantilicized, 
dependent, incompetent, weak, and helpless. 99 

As Stephen Orgel says, "Women and children...become the 
cultural metonyms for the working classes generally— all 
those elements that must be controlled if the patriarchy is 
to survive." 100 Sue-Ellen Case writes, "The celibacy of 
this [Elizabethan] stage and the dependence of the boy 
maintained the female sex object as one without any real 

97 As You Like It, III . ii . 402-03 . 

98 As You Like It, III . ii . 399-402 . 

99 Bartky, in Femininity and Domination, discusses today's 
infantilization of a woman's body. She identifies its pervasiveness 
and the manner in which it creates "our enforced dependency; 
manufactured incompetence; weakness and helplessness; our traditional 
exclusion from many areas of adult life; the requirement not only that 
we act like children, but that we look like children too — smooth, soft, 
rounded, hairless and, above all, young" (39). 


Orgel, Impersonations, 109. 


power or danger." 101 In short, the women in dramas, whether 
on paper or on the boards as boy actors, are the same 
inconstant and incontinent creatures as the women in 
conduct books. Because of this, the female body and its 
representation in drama must be controlled. The liberty 
which Celia claims she and her cousin are going to achieve 
as they strike out on their own is short-lived and will be 
surrendered in marriage for their own well-being. 

Unlike many of her counterparts, Portia, in The 
Merchant of Venice does not utilize her masculine disguise 
to be near her future spouse. Already married and in the 
guise of a lawyer, she employs her clever rhetoric to 
literally save the skin of her husband's dearest friend 
Antonio. Portia is obviously less physically confined than 
Jessica, Shylock's daughter, as she travels freely from her 
home in Belmont to seek legal advice and then to appear in 
a Venetian court on Antonio's behalf. However, she is no 
less governed by her father than is Jessica. In fact, 
while Portia accepts her deceased father's stipulations for 
procuring her a spouse, Jessica rebels against her living 
father's injunctions. Disguised as a torchbearer, Jessica 
seizes her own dowry by absconding with a casket of 

101 Case, Feminism and Theatre, 27. 


Shylock's jewels and elopes with a Christian, denouncing 
her Jewish faith. Indeed Jessica has jeopardized her life, 
infuriating her father to the point that he wishes her 
dead. This, one would think, is a gutsy woman who has 
fearlessly outwitted the sly Shylock. Yet this devil-may- 
care behavior is mitigated by Jessica's sartorial shame as 
she gestures toward her abashment, confessing to Lorenzo: 

I am glad 'tis night, you do not look 

on me, 
For I am much asham'd of my exchange. 
But love is blind, and lovers cannot 

The pretty follies that themselves 

For if they could, Cupid himself would 

To see me thus transformed to a boy. 102 

While making reference to Cupid's response to her 

transvestitism, Jessica herself displays her instilled 

shame by wearing the obligatory maidenly blush, the facial 

expression that signifies a maiden's "shamefastedness . " 

According to one conduct book author, 

A womans blush is a signe of 
grace, and a good woman will guickly 
blush at many thinges; nay it were 
enough to make a vertuous woman to 
blush, but to thinke with her selfe 
that shee could not blush. 

The blush of a womans face is an 
approbation of a chast and honest mind, 
and a manifest signe that shee doth not 


The Merchant of Venice, II. vi. 36-40. 


approue any intemperate actions, or any 
other wanton speeches or demeanors that 
are eyther offered to her selfe, or to 
any other in her presence. 

The woman that forgetteth to 
blush, it is an argument that shee is 
past grace; for shamefastnesse is not 
onely a brydle to sinne, but it is 
likewise the common treasury of 
feminine Vertue. 103 

Yet, in spite of her signifier of shame and sexual 
continence, Shylock verbally strikes down his daughter and, 
enclosing her in a casket with his stolen fortune, seals 
her off from any further disobedience: "I would my 
daughter were dead at my foot, and the jewels in her ear! 
Would she were hears ' d at my foot, and the ducats in her 
coffin!" 104 Jessica becomes the dutiful daughter in her 
father's mind only when she is lying inert beneath 
Shylock 1 s powerful foot. Portia, too, in spite of her 
apparent freedom, is "lock'd in" 105 a casket, reduced to an 
icon, and controlled by her father's plan for choosing her 
spouse. What she believes to be her "worthless self" 106 is 
ruled from her father's juridical grave and by a gendered 

103 Rich, The Honestie of this Age, 48. 

104 Merchant, III. i. 83-85. 

105 Merchant, II.ii.40. 

106 Merchant, II.ix.17. 


hierarchy that produces shame in woman for their inherent 


Portia briefly entertains the thought of subverting 

her father's plan by covertly teaching Bassanio "how to 

choose right." 107 Yet, she fears disregarding her father's 

injunctions and risking eternal punishment for "rigging" 

the game of caskets: "Let fortune go to hell for it, not 

I." 108 Always under the Holy Gaze, Portia believes 

daughterly disobedience will result in eternal damnation. 

She submits to both her earthly and heavenly fathers as 

well as her husband. When Portia declares her love for 

Bassanio, she alludes to her gestural obedience and wifely 

submission, should her lover choose the correct casket: 

He may win; 

And what is music then? Then music is 

Even as the flourish when true subjects 

To a new-crowned monarch. 109 

The correct choice made, Portia quickly "bows" herself and 

her estate to her future spouse. As the conduct books make 

clear, a wife's body and goods are her husband's: 

Yf the wyfe be ryche and the husbande 
poore, then let not the wyfe boast hir 
ryches agaynst the husbande, but 

107 Merchant, III.ii.ll. 

108 Merchant, III.ii.21. 

109 Merchant, III . ii . 48-50 , 


consydre, that thorow mariage, hir 
goodes are become hir husba[n]ds also 
for mariage is a mutuall felauship & 
partakyng of all thinges. The body 
lykesyse is more of value then the 
goodes. Seynge, then that thy body is 
thy husbandes, much more are thy goodes 
hys. 110 

Not long after, the news of Antonio's turn of fortune sends 

Bassanio packing and Portia on her errand of mercy. 

Disguised as a man, as is Nerissa, and hiding her "lack," 111 

Portia will alter her stride and behave like the youthful, 

lying braggarts whose charms have caused many a lady, 

unrequited of their love, to fall sick and die: 

When we are both accoutred like young 

I'll prove the prettier fellow of the 

And wear my dagger with the braver 

And speak between the change of man and 

With a reed voice, and turn two mincing 

Into a manly stride, and speak of frays 
Like a fine bragging youth, and tell 

quaint lies, 
How honorable ladies sought my love, 
Which, I denying, they fell sick and 

Died — 
I could not do withal! 112 


Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony, Chapter 18. 

111 Merchant, III.iv.62. 

112 Merchant, III . iv. 63-72 . 


While Portia's long masculine stride serves to uphold 

her disguise, her words strike women down, sending them to 

their sickbeds and caskets, as they are physically and 

ideologically positioned beneath the masculine and 

simultaneously enclosed, in her metaphors or on their 

biers. Even though Portia utilizes her wit and "manly 

stride" to save her husband's dearest friend, she does so 

in the guise of a man. Disguised or not, this is a wife's 

proper behavior. One conduct book writer praises his wife, 

who died in childbirth, for her 

True loue and loyaltie to her husband, 
& his friends, she was (let me speake 
it without offence) I thinke, the 
rarest Paragon in the world: for she 
was so far of from disswading her 
husba[n]d to be beneficiall to his 
friends, that she wold rather perswade 
him to be more beneficial to them. 113 

Furthermore, Portia's bold steps 114 are permitted only as 

she is cross-dressed and only as she sacrifices herself for 

the sake of her husband's male compatriot. In turn, both 

husbands are willing to sacrifice their wives in order to 

Phillip Stubbes, in A Christal Glasse for Christian Women (London, 
1592), praises his deceased wife Katherine because "her whole delight 
was to be conuersant in the Scriptures" (3), the understanding of which 
she sought from her husband; for her gentle nature; her silence; and 
for her refusal to leave her house, "except her husband were in 
companie" (3) . 

Case, in Feminism and Theatre, writes, "Stage movement replicates 
the proxemics of the social order, capitalizing upon the spatial 
relationships in the culture at large between women and the sites of 
power" (118) . 


save Antonio's life. If the death of a wife could release 

Antonio from his lethal bond to Shylock, then Bassanio 

would sacrifice his spouse to the devil Shylock. He 

declares : 

Antonio, I am married to a wife 

Which is as dear to me as life itself; 

But life itself, my wife, and all the 

Are not with me esteem' d above thy 

I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them 

Here to this devil, to deliver you. 115 

The more merciful Gratiano would forfeit his wife to 


I have a wife, who, I protest, I love; 
I would she were in heaven, so she 

Entreat some power to change this 

currish Jew. 116 

Even before these declarations, however, the willing Portia 
has consecrated herself as the sacrificial virgin. 
Anticipating Bassanio 's casket choosing, she says, "I stand 
for sacrifice." 117 Passively awaiting her fate, Portia 
"stands" in or represents woman as sacrificial victim. As 
one conduct book author promises: 

115 Merchant, IV. i. 280-85. 

116 Merchant, IV. i. 288-90. 

117 Merchant, III.ii.57. 


Therefore loue your husbandes heere, 
and if they reward it not, it shall bee 
rewarded in Heauen, bee obedient to 
them heere, and yee shall bee made 
equall with them in Heauen: bee humble 
and lowly heere, and yee shall bee 
exalted in Heauen, be clothed with 
modesty here, and yee shall bee clothed 
with honour in Heauen, bee patient 
heere, and yee shall be crowned with 
glorie in Heauen, and as heere for your 
bettring you did turne one into two, so 
there for your further bettring you 
shall turne two into one, and haue 
vnitie and societie with Christ for 
euer . 118 

Granted, Portia's legal maneuvers release Antonio from 

Shylock's whetted knife, but her wit has served its purpose 

and must be disengaged if she is to be a "good wife." One 

conduct book writer says a wife should not have wit, but 

A passiue understanding to conceiue, 
And Iudgement to discerne, I wish to 

f inde: 
Beyond that, all as hazardous I leaue; 
Learning, and pregnant wit in Woman- 

What it findes malleable, maketh 

And doth not adde more ballast, 

but more saile. 119 

Portia's wit and salvific powers are short-lived, for her 
own well-being. She returns to Belmont to place herself 
beneath the rule of her husband where, according to the 

118 Francis Meres, Gods Arithmeticke (London, 1597), n. pag. 

119 Brathwaite, The Good Wife, n. pag. 


conduct books, her own salvation is reliant upon her 

measured performance as a "good wife." No longer appealing 

for a verdict from an earthly arbiter, Portia patiently 

awaits a decision from the "great Judge." 120 

One conduct book author advises his readership to 

Do what thou canste him to allure 
To seke god by godly lyueyng 
And certenly thou shalt be sure 
Of lyfe that is euerlastynge . 121 

A woman must not forget that she bears the burden of her 
sister Eve: 

For though the fyrste woman did fall 
And was the chiefe occasion 
That synne hath pearced through us all 
Yet shalt thou haue salluation. 122 

As the conduct books continually rehearse, this salvation 

is contingent upon a woman's obedience to her husband as 

she "dydste vow." 123 

Diane Bornstein writes: 

If we wish to look to Shakespeare's 
plays for models [of the ideal woman], 
we could say that the ideal Renaissance 
lady was not the bold Rosalind of As 


According to Philip Stubbes, in A Christal Glasse for Christian 
Women (London, 1591) A4, this is the name his pious wife Katherine 
attributed to God while she was languishing on her deathbed. 

121 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag. 

122 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag. 

123 Crowley, The Voyce of the Laste Trumpet, n. pag. 


You like It or the ingenious Portia of 
The Merchant of Venice, but the 
retiring Hermione of The Winter's 
Tale. 12 * 

While I would agree with Bornstein's evaluation of 

Hermione, I believe that Rosalind and Portia, as well as 

Julia and Viola are "bold" and "ingenious" but briefly. 

Moreover, their feminine gesturology belies their moments 

of power as they punctuate their swaggering with swoons and 

their disguises with sartorial discomfiture. These 

"plucky" women willingly relinquish their doublets, "their 

brief hour of freedom," 125 and their wit to their lovers. 

As Ania Loomba argues of Rosalind, Viola, and Portia, 

even though these women are the most mobile of Renaissance 

female characters, they remain fixed within the dominant 

ideology. Shakespearean female characters may temporarily 

transgress conduct book codes by stepping into male roles, 

but they eventually comply with patriarchal desire, 

remaining chaste until they marry suitable lovers. 126 

• 24 Diane Bornstein, introduction, Distaves and Dames: Renaissance 
Treatises For and About Women, ed. by Bornstein (Delmar, NY: Scholars' 
Facsimiles & Reprints, 1978), xx. 

125 D. E. Underdown, "The Taming of the Scold: the Enforcement of 
Patriarchal Authority in Early Modern England," Order and Disorder in 
Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge UP) 116-36. Underdown 
believes that both Shakespeare and his audience knew the independent 
female characters while "sometimes portrayed sympathetically" would 
ultimately "submit to their proper wifely roles" within the 
"traditional order" (117). 

126 Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama. 


Although each cross-dressed heroine, in varying 
degrees of intensity, interrogates the gendered hierarchy, 
their sartorial slippage never occludes their identity as 
fragile female characters who must ultimately relinguish 
any authority their guises have temporarily procured. 
Their practiced gestures mark them as women, disallows them 
to step beyond their delimiting bodies and homes, and 
recuperates the status quo. As Shapiro suggests, while the 
roles of cross-dressed women in plays could amplify the 
actions of non-theatrical transvestite women (although 
these women were performing, in a sense) who challenged 
established gender roles, this challenge was undercut by 
the awareness of the boy actor. 127 A woman's challenge to 
the gendered hierarchy appears, at bottom, benign. 


Shapiro, Gender in Play. 


It would appear that audiences eventually were sated 

with Shakespeare's benign heroines and desired a 

"naughtier" female character who dared to display her wit, 

often undisguised and always undisciplined. These new 

heroines are, however, at last kept in their place, 

censured not only by the opposite sex but also, and I think 

more importantly, by their own. Beatrice, in Much Ado 

About Nothing, seems to be Shakespeare's most assertive 

heroine who does not cross-dress. Perhaps this is why her 

wit brings condemnation on her head not only from the men 

in the drama but also from her cousin Hero, an exemplar of 

the silent and chaste conduct-book woman. As one conduct 

book writer says of a "A good Woman": sometimes in a 

pleasant discontent shee dares chide her Sex, though shee 

vse it neuer the worse." 1 

Admittedly Hero, along with Ursula, is plotting to 

ensnare Beatrice into falling in love with Benedick. As a 

result, Hero's chastisement of her cousin requires some 

exaggeration. Nevertheless, the love trap creates an 

opportunity for an outspoken woman to be reprimanded by her 

"own kind, " women who appear all the more complicit with 

1 Richard Brathwaite, The Good Wife (London, 1619), n.pag. 



conduct book guidelines that formulate the ideal wife. 
Apparently distraught with her cousin's unseemly behavior, 
Hero complains, 

But Nature never fram'd a woman's heart 
Of prouder stuff than that of Beatrice. 
Disdain and scorn ride sparkling in her 

Misprising what they look on, and her 

Values itself so highly that to her 
All matter else seems weak. She cannot 

Nor take no shape nor project of 

She is so self-endeared. 2 

A woman with wit, says Hero, is unable to love. 

Exaggerated or not, Hero's language endorses the masculine 

doctrine that marks assertive women as problematic and 

"unfeminine. " Ursula, although coming to Beatrice's 

defense, assumes that Beatrice will use her wit 

appropriately—to procure a husband: 

0, do not do your cousin such a wrong! 
She cannot be so much without true 

Having so swift and excellent a wit 
As she is priz'd to have--as to refuse 
So rare a gentleman as Signior 

Benedick. 3 

While Ursula's rhetoric is meant to defend Beatrice, her 
assumption supports the notion that a woman's destiny is 

2 Much Ado About Nothing, III. i. 50-55. All quotations from Shakespeare 
are from The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. David Bevington. 
(Glenview, ILL: Scott, Foresman, 1980.) 

3 Much Ado, I I I. i.8 6-90. 


domesticity. Disguised or not, a comic heroine employs her 
wit and intellect to find a mate. Phyllis Rackin writes 
that marriage in Shakespeare's comedies is represented by 
the ideal nuclear family of the middling sort. 4 Although 
the comic heroines appear to come from upper-class 
families, their behavior affirms the family ideology 
inherent in conduct books targeted at the women of the 
middle classes. 

Beatrice is eventually "lim'd," trapped like a bird, 
allowing herself to be "tamed" beneath Benedick's 
authoritative hand: 

What fire is in mine ears? Can this be 

Stand I condemn 'd for pride and scorn 

so much? 
Contempt, farewell, and maiden pride, 

adieu ! 
No glory lives behind the back of such. 
And, Benedick, love on; I will requite 

Taming my wild heart to thy loving 


^ Phyllis Rackin, "Foreign Country: The Place of Women and Sexuality in 
Shakespeare's Historical World," Enclosure Acts: Sexuality, Property, 
and Culture in Early Modern England, ed. Richard Burt and John Michael 
Archer (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1994), 68-95. Rackin discusses how 
differently Shakespeare's comedies and histories represented marriage. 
She writes, "The comedies look forward to the emergent bourgeois ideal 
of the loving nuclear family, but the histories look backward to an 
older conception of marriage as a political and economic union between 
feudal families..." (79) . According to Sue-Ellen Case, in Feminism and 
Theatre (New York: Methuen, 1988), marriage as dramatic resolution is 
evidenced much earlier in Athenian drama. In The Eumenides , the third 
play of The Oresteia, the Furies receive a new vocation presiding over 
marriages. Case writes, "This ending can be seen as paradigmatic of 
future plot structures in the Western play-writing tradition. A great 
many plays in the tradition resolve various kinds of civic, historical 
and psychological problems with the institution of marriage. The 
proper gender role for women is inscribed in this conclusion" (15). 


If thou dost love, my kindness shall 

incite thee 
To bind our loves up in a holy band; 
For others say thou dost deserve, and I 
Believe it better than reportingly. 5 

Conduct books make it clear that a loving hand, 

however, can be used by a husband to discipline a "froward" 

and contrary wife if she refuses taming: "Some [wives] had 

rather haue theyr back full of strypes, then to holde theyr 

tonge and forbeare a litle." 6 Unlike her cousin, Hero has 

never required "taming." Yet, in spite of her 

appropriately feminine comportment, Hero falls victim to a 

devious plan that impugns her honor and forces her to play 

dead. When Claudio accuses his fiancee of inconstancy, he 

employs the outward sign of the blush, ironically meant to 

signify her chastity, to malign her reputation: 

She's but the sign and semblance of her honor. 

Behold how like a maid she blushes here! 

0, what authority and show of truth 

Can cunning sin cover itself withal! 

Comes not that blood as modest evidence 

To witness simple virtue? Would you not swear, 

All you that see her, that she were a maid, 

By these exterior shows? But she is none: 

She knows the heart of a luxurious bed; 

Her blush is guiltiness, not modesty. 7 

Neither her blush nor her "outward graces" 8 are 

sufficient to refute the charges against Hero's 

5 Much Ado, III. i. 107-116 

6 Heinrich Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony [Antwerp, 154 i; 
Chapter 18, n. pag. 

7 Much Ado, IV. i. 32-41. 

8 Much Ado, IV. i. 100. 


"misgovernment" of her body. Indeed, the "sign and 
semblance" of her blush can be interpreted however her 
fiance chooses. Like Julia and Rosalind, Hero has no 
control over her body or the reading of its signs. To 
emphasize this, she sinks into a swoon, connoting her 
dependent female nature. 

The Friar, however, reads Hero's blushes otherwise, 
having marked 

A thousand blushing apparitions 

To start into her face, a thousand innocent 

In angel whiteness beat away those blushes, 
And in her eye there hath appear ' d a fire 
To burn the errors that these princes hold 
Against her maiden truth. 9 

Notwithstanding such a reading, Hero receives no such 

certification from her father or fiance and must, 

therefore, be "killed off" and contained in an imaginary 

grave. Claudio's jewel has lost its luster. 10 As one 

conduct book writer makes clear: 

A good wife is well worth the seeking 
after. A long iourney taken fro such 
one is well undertaken. We see how 
farre men travell to fetch Pearles and 
Diamonds; how much more for one that is 
of more value than either? 11 

9 Much Ado, IV. i. 158-163. 

10 When Claudio initially avows his love for Hero, he asks Benedick, 
"Can the world buy such a jewel?" Benedick replies, "yea, and a case 
to put it into." Much Ado, I. i. 174-75. 

11 Thomas Gataker, A Mariage Praier, or Succinct Meditations (London, 
1624) 3. 


Devalued jewel or unchaste woman, Hero must be figuratively 

murdered and stashed away until the men can ascertain her 

body's destiny. Meanwhile the Friar believes Hero's 

feigned death will induce Claudio to recant his initial 

reading and to decode differently Hero's material 

significations : 

And every lovely organ of her life 
Shall come apparel 'd in more precious 

More moving, delicate, and full of 

Into the eye and prospect of his soul, 
Than when she liv'd indeed. 

In other words, Hero in death will be more appealing to the 

twice-duped Claudio. Apparently, the icon the Friar 

conjures of Hero's dead, static body will arouse Claudio 

more than Hero's living corpus had. 

In response to the slandering of her apparently-dead 

cousin, Beatrice wishes that she were a man, 12 three times, 

in fact. According to Kelso, the supposed desire on the 

part of a woman to "be" a man was an admission of a woman's 

inferior nature, a well-worn argument employed in early 

modern anti-feminist discourse. 13 This "desire" of 

Beatrice's is enough to convince Benedick to challenge 

12 Ania Loomba, Gender, Race, Renaissance Drama (Delhi: Oxford UP, 
1992) . Loomba writes that patriarchal discourses, although 
heterogeneous, appear as a single, common-sense discourse; and the 
women in Renaissance dramas often wish to be men or at least to have 
their power. 

13 Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance (Urbana: U of 
Illinois P, 1956) 13. 


Count Claudio, forcing him to render Benedick a "dear 
account." 14 Benedick reasons that if Beatrice is clear- 
headed enough to realize the superior nature of men, by 
desiring that nature, that she is most likely correct 
regarding Hero's case of slander. With the truth 
discovered, the scales drop from Claudio' s eyes: "Sweet 
Hero! Now thy image doth appear in the rare semblance that 
I lov'd it first." 15 Killed by male slander and resurrected 
by masculine "truth," Claudio rereads Hero's somatic 
signifiers and re-visions her once-occluded "rare 
semblance." As a result, Hero marries, and like so many 
female characters before and after her, follows the rules 
of the conduct books, dutifully overlooking her husband's 
heinous behavior. 

As Jean E. Howard writes, Claudio, the legal heir, as 
opposed to his bastard brother Don John, is permitted such 
behavior. It legitimizes the traditional social order and 
exposes women and bastards as the inevitable source of 
social disruption, 16 a disruption, I might add, that the 
conduct book authors are attempting to obviate. The 
appropriate hierarchical structure of the early modern 
household is repeatedly modeled in conduct books whose 
titles indicate that the family is to be ordered like a 

14 Much Ado, IV. i. 331. 

15 Much Ado, V, i. 24 5-6. 

16 Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle, 61 


miniature government. Within these micro-states, the 
husband is the head of the household in general and his 
wife in particular. Robert Cleaver, in A Codly [godly] 
Form of Householde Governement (1598), writes that a wife 
has three principle "duties" toward her husband. First, 
she must "reuerence" him; second, she must "submit 
herselfe, and be obedient vnto him"; and, third, she must 
not wear attire "beyond her degree & place." 17 A woman's 
attire, along with her gestures, must be "sober." Like 
Hero, a wife who has been unjustly accused of an 
impropiety, must forgive her erring husband and demonstrate 
that forgiveness through her countenance: 

And if hee shall chance to blame her 
without a cause, and for that which 
shee could not helpe or remedy (which 
thing sometimes happeneth euen of the 
best men) yet shee must beare it 
patiently, and giue him no vncomely or 
vnkinde words for it: but euermore 
looke vppon him, with a louing and 
chearefull countenance, and so rather 
let her take the fault vppon her, then 
seeme to bee displeased. 18 

Furthermore, a wife must demonstrate her submissive role, 

even in the light of her husband's inappropriate behavior 

(it happens to the best of them, the conduct books report) 

with her body: 

17 Robert Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement 
(London, 1598) 213. 

18 Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement, 214. 


Let her bee always merry and chearefull 
in his company, but yet not with too 
much lightnesse. Shee must beware in 
any wise of swelling, powting, lowring, 
or frowning, for that is a token of a 
cruell, and vnlouing heart, except it 
bee in respect of sinne, or in time of 
sicknesse . 19 

Perhaps, Beatrice, seeing her cousin's dreadful plight, 

rethinks her own behavior. One conduct book says that a 

woman of a suspected Chastitie, liueth 
but in a miserable case, and when shee 
beareth other women ill spoken of, let 
her thinke in her minde, what may be 
spoken of her, imagining with herselfe; 
that when a woman is once in an ill 
name, whether it be deseruedly, or 
without cause, she hath much adoe to 
recouer again her honour.... 20 

Beatrice has witnessed first-hand the dreadful consequences 

of a woman falsely accused of sexual incontinence. Her 

sudden transformation of character may not be the result 

entirely of her affection for Benedick. Perhaps Beatrice 

realizes she must carry her body more appropriately, 

avoiding the harsh criticism Hero suffered, as far as we 

know, undeservedly. If the conduct book model of a woman 

can be unjustly slandered, what can happen to the woman who 

refuses such a paradigm? "Chastity, " says one conduct book 

author, "joyned with vanity, deserueth no commendations at 

all." 21 Beatrice realizes her reputation and, indeed, her 

19 Cleaver, A Codly [godly] Form of Householde Governement, 214. 

20 The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter IX, n. pag., emphasis mine. 

21 The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter X, n. pag. 


life, rest in the hands of men. One conduct book 
emphasizes the precarious position in which a woman finds 
herself and her "name": 

To keep their Name, when 'tis in others 

Discretion askes; their Credit is by 

More fraile then They; on likely-hoods 

It stands, 
And hard to be disprou'd, Lusts 

slanders are. 
Their Carriage, not their 

Chastitie alone, 
Must keepe their Name chaste from 

suspition. 22 

A woman's "name" is more frangible than her material body, 
and her honor rests on how successfully she carries that 
body. Therefore, she must regard her gestures with utmost 
care. If slandered, a woman has no insurance against false 
accusations. Knowing Hero's plight in that regard, 
Beatrice alters her carriage and subdues her tongue to 
mirror her reformation. 

Like Beatrice, Kate, in The Taming of the Shrew, 
ultimately will adhere to the silent language of 
submission. To that end, the audience/reader is reminded 
in the opening scene that a submissive wife is marked by 
her restrained comportment. The Lord instructs his page 
Barthol'mew to deceive Sly into believing Barthol'mew is 
his wife. He assigns the players the task of instructing 
Barthol'mew to perform like a lady 

22 Brathwaite, The Good Wife, n. pag. 


With soft low tongue and lowly 

And say, "What is 't your honor will 

Wherein your lady and your humble wife 
May show her duty and make known her 

And then with kind embracements, 

tempting kisses, 
And with declining head into his bosom, 
Bid him shed tears, as being overjoyed 
To see her noble lord restor'd to 

health. 23 

The Lord is convinced that his page "will well usurp the 
grace, Voice, gait, and action of a gentlewoman." 24 Yet, 
almost as soon as the inset play begins, the audience is 
apprised of what constitutes the very antithesis of that 
"gentlewoman." Gremio makes it clear to Baptista that he 
is not interested in marrying Baptista' s elder daughter 
Katharina who is "too rough" and who needs to be carted 
rather than courted. Like Rosalind, Kate's disorderly 
behavior potentially subjects her to public chastisement 
and ridicule. Because of her refusal to comport herself as 
the conduct books suggest, Kate is vilified by masculine 

Hortensio: From all such devils, good 
Lord deliver us! 

Gremio: And me too, good Lord! 

Tranio: Husht, master! Here's some 

good pastime toward. That wench is 
stark mad or wonderful froward. 25 


The Taming of the Shrew, induction, i. 117-27 

24 Shrew, induction, i. 130-31. 

25 Shrew, I. i. 66-69. 


In response to Kate's abhorrent behavior, Bianca 

addresses her sister and father, respectively: 

Sister, content you in my discontent. 
Sir, to your pleasure humbly I 

My books and instruments shall be my 

On them to look and practice by 

myself. 26 

In contrast to the shrewish Kate, Bianca is complicit with 
her own enclosure, even though she admits her "discontent." 
As one of her suitors, Hortensio says, Bianca is his 
treasure who has submitted herself to the patriarchal 

[Baptista] hath the jewel of my life in 

His youngest daughter, beautiful 

And her withholds from me and other 

More.... 21 

The scene in which Kate has Bianca' s hands tied, only 
reaffirms Bianca' s willing submission, as she states, "So 
well I know my duty to my elders." 28 Bianca ' s dutiful 
behavior and submissive demeanor, signified by her bound 
hands, endears her father to her while inciting jealousy 
and further rebellion in Kate. As Baptista hires tutors to 
train his daughters for marriage, Bianca alone responds to 
the lessons. Kate, in fact, strikes Hortensio on the head 

26 Shrew, I. i. 80-83. 

27 Shrew, I. ii. 117-19. 


Shrew, II. i. 7 


with her lute, refusing his instruction. While Bianca is 
content with her books and musical instruments, Kate is 
averse to being "trained up" for marriage. Both playing an 
instrument and plying the needle were pastimes in in which 
conduct books insisted women engage to keep themselves 
busily employed. A wife, one author states, is "not to sit 
alwayes ydle;" she must occupy herself with her household 
duties "even in things of least importaunce, " keeping busy 
"as with hir needle, and rocke." 29 

In regard to the trained, docile body's continual 
activity, Foucault states, 

Time measured and paid must also be a 
time without impurities or defects; a 
time of good quality, throughout which 
the body is constantly applied to its 
exercise. Precision and application 
are, with regularity, the fundamental 
virtues of disciplinary time. 30 

Keeping busy was as important it seems as being productive. 

A woman could not let a minute be "mis-spended" as she 

plied her needle or engaged in "any other manuall 

employment." She was to "chuse rather with Penelope to 

weaue and vnweaue, than to giue Idlenesse the least 

leaue." 31 Although the pastimes of needlework, scripture 

reading, and playing music kept a woman busy, they also 

29 Edmund Tilney, The Flower of Friendship (London, 1568) 137. 

30 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, 
trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979) 151. 

31 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, (London, 1631) 49. 


circumscribed her within the home, seated at her "work" as 
the gesturally-obedient wife. 

As Gail Kern Paster has discovered, early modern 
medical discourse opined that offspring of the upper class 
could be impaired because their idle parents expended their 
seed too frequently, thereby weakening it. 32 Since conduct 
book writers were invested in producing the ideal wife of 
the middling ranks of society, in apposition to the 
aristocratic wife, the newly-fashioned wife of the nuclear 
family was required to behave in a manner that would enable 
her to reproduce the means of production through bearing 
healthy children and maintaining an economically-efficient 
household. Marriage, one conduct book states, is the 
"first bargaine of thrift." 33 

Petruchio, challenged by Kate's behavior, is confident 
he can reform her. As one conduct book states, in regard 
to a wife, a husband "may safely, like a tender twigg, make 
her straight, if she begin to grow crooked, and with graue 
admonitions reforme her wanton minde." 34 Petruchio, through 

32 Gail Kern Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of 
Shame in Early Modern England (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993) . See 
especially Chapter 4 for a view of early modern social attitudes toward 
the maternal body. Paster discusses how medical discourse manifests a 
woman's pregnant body as "unclean" and "filthy." In so doing, however, 
this discourse creates a paradox: while the womb is depicted as 
suspect, unstable, and even a breeder of poison, metonymically 
reflecting a cultural fear of parturition as maternal power, it is the 
same womb that nurtures the infant upon whom patriarchy relied for its 
continuance . 

33 The Court of Good Counsell (London, 1607), Chapter I, n. pag. 

34 The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter III, n. pag. 


his "grave admonitions," manages to accomplish his goal. 
This does not occur, however, until Kate has been deprived 
of food and sleep and realizes that she has no place to go 
except beneath her husband's figurative head. Moreover, 
Petruchio forces Kate' s literal hand by adhering to more 
conduct book advice: 

In this long, and troublesome journey 
of matrimonie, the wise man maye not be 
contented onely with his spouses 
virginitie, but by little and little 
must gently procure that he maye also 
steale away hir private will, and 
appetite, so that of two bodies there 
may be made one onelye hart.... 35 

Kate breaks beneath Petruchio' s relentless tactic, deemed 

appropriate and sometimes necessary by one conduct book: 

If a mans horse be not exceeding gentle 
and well broken, he will sure either 
run out of the way, or stumble and cast 
the rider. So if such a mans wife be 
not more than ordinary in meekenes and 
patience, she will either rebell 
against him, or contemne him. 36 

Moreover, if Petruchio 's initial methodology had proven 

fruitless, more violent measures were available: 

Wee prouender an horse as well as ship 
and spurre him, else the best would 
tyre: and the wife must bee animated to 
good things, and not onely withdrawne 
fro euill. 37 

35 Tilney, The Flower, 112. 

36 William Whately, A Bride-Bush, or a Wedding Sermon (London, 1617) IS 

37 Whately, A Bride-Bush, 35. 


Seeing that he need not be "spurred" toward further 
disciplinary steps, Petruchio is pleased with his "aweful 
rule, and right supremacy." 38 A husband who is able to 
appropriately mold his wife, according to one conduct book, 
will find "he is proud that he hath framed her with his 
owne hand, to his owne hart." 39 

The husband's supremacy established, a wife must learn 
to keep "hand and tongue and all from disorder." 40 Inwardly 
reverent, she must control her infirmities while self- 
policing her every word and gesture. Even her shoulders 
must be regulated: "And woe to these miserable aspiring 
shoulders, that content not themselues to take their roome, 
next below the head [of the husband]." 41 If a wife's body 
is not controlled down to its "fingers ends," the marriage, 
one conduct book author states, will be "wofull." 42 
Foucault writes, 

Disciplinary control does not consist 
simply in teaching or imposing a series 
of particular gestures; it imposes the 
best relation between a gesture and the 
overall position of the body, which is 

38 Shrew, V.ii.lll. 

39 The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter IV. The anonymous author 
suggests that a man marry a young woman who is more pliable than an 
older, recalcitrant woman, often an embarrassment to her husband. The 
author says that older women must be locked away or asked to "withdraw 
themselues out of sight" (n. pag.) of her husband's company, lest the 
husband be humiliated by her untoward behavior. 

40 Whately, A Bride-Bush, 38. 

41 Whately, A Bride-Bush, 36. 

42 Whately, A Bride-Bush, 36. 


its condition of efficiency and speed. 
In the correct use of the body, which 
makes possible a correct use of time, 
nothing must remain idle or useless: 
everything must be called upon to form 
the support of the act required. A 
well-disciplined body forms the 
operational context of the slightest 
gesture. 43 

If a woman is not kept from "disorder," she, like the 

disruptive biblical wives Sarah, Rachel, and Michal, might 

find herself left sans child or husband, a precarious 

position for the early modern woman. It was essential that 

a wife's outward behavior signify to her husband her inward 


First, in speeches and gestures vnto 
him. These must carry the stamp of 
feare vpon them, and not be cutted, 
sharpe, sullen, passionate, teechie; 
but meeke, quiet, submissiue.... The 
wiues tongue towards her husband must 
bee neither keene, nor loose, her 
countenance neither swelling nor 
deriding; her behauiour not flinging, 
not puffing, not discontented.... 44 

Sounding as if she is reciting from a contemporary 

conduct book, the reformed and indoctrinated Kate directs 

the remaining disobedient wives in bodily conduct: 

Fie, fie! Unknit that threatening 

unkind brow, 
And dart not scornful glances from 

those eyes, 
To wound thy lord, thy kind, thy 

43 Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 152, 

44 Whately, A Bride-Bush, 38. 


governor. 45 
Kate demonstrates how feminine gesturology becomes the 
material manifestation of the dominant ideology that 
positions the woman beneath man, ideologically and 
spatially. She tells her women onlookers that instead of 
seeking war with their spouses, they should "kneel for 
peace." 46 After all, she questions, should not women's 
"soft conditions and [their] hearts. ..well agree with [their] 
external parts?" 47 Finally, she implies, there is little 
choice left to women anyway since their words and frowns 
are mere "straws." Consequently, the enlightened Kate 
directs her sister Bianca and a nameless widow in 
appropriate feminine gestures: 

And place your hands below your 

husband's foot, 
In token of which duty, if he please, 
My hand is ready; may it do him ease. 48 

Kate repents of her shrewishness and becomes a conduct book 

model of the ideal wife. Her practiced carriage, etched in 

the mise-en-scene of her bowing before her husband, is as 

demeaning a construction as her initial depiction as shrew. 

In fact, it is more demeaning. Kate has run the gamut of 

female stereotypes, registering herself at its extreme 

45 Shrew, V. ii . 138-140 . 

46 Shrew, V.ii.164 . 

47 Shrew, V.ii. 169-70. 

48 Shrew, V. ii . 179-181 , 


ends. In this play in particular, the image of the ideal 
early modern woman is keenly focused through the conduct 
book, lens and projected onto the Shakespearean stage. 

Though Kate enjoys her transient moment of social 
disruption, she is, interestingly, presented as an 
"unadulterated," chaste woman. Kate may be demonized for 
her aggressive nature, but she is never "whored." Dekker 
and Middleton, however, create a female character whose 
uncertain morality titillates her Jacobean audience. Moll, 
the eponymous hero of The Roaring Girl, transgresses the 
conduct book code of femininity through her dressing like a 
man and her freely wandering the streets of London as an 
unmarried woman. Unlike her Shakespearean counterparts, 
Moll is not cross-dressed to preserve her honor while 
searching for her lost lover. While she keeps busy down to 
her fingertips, her hands are engaged neither in housework 
nor in needlepoint. Instead, one would guess they are 
occupied in filching other people's property, hence the 
name "Moll Cutpurse." The drama does not produce any 
evidence to identify Moll as a thief; however, it does 
associate her with a crowd of thieves. Jean E. Howard, 
although she concludes Moll is "no thief," points out that 
she "knows all the lowlife types of London and knows their 


canting jargon, their thieving tricks. "«9 To enhance Moll's 
eschewal of a prescribed "feminine" paradigm, she plays a 
viol, certainly not an instrument conduct books deem 
appropriate for a woman. 50 

Turning our attention for a moment to Middleton's A 
Chaste Maid in Cheapside, we see how Mrs. Yellowhammer, a 
citizen's wife, attempts to train her daughter-another 
Moll-in the skills that will shape her into a marketable 
commodity, especially in the eyes of the supposedly wealthy 
Sir Walter Whorehound. Margaret Hallissy suggests that in 
spite of women becoming craftwomen and "gradually being 
caught up in the rising tide of technology and capitalism- 
marriage was still the ground base. ..of womanly success." 51 
And, conduct books were the texts from which young women 
like Moll Yellowhammer would have acquired the skills that 
would attract a desirable husband. Mrs. Yellowhammer asks 

Jean E. Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle in Early Modern England 
(New York: Routledge, 1994) 126. 

50 Stephen Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl," Erotic Politics: 
Desire on the Renaissance Stage (New York: Routledge, 1992). Orgel 
quotes from the Consistory of London Correction, fols 19-20, describing 
a court appearance at which "Mary Frith, alias Moll Cutpurse, the 
original of Middleton's and Dekker' s The Roaring Girl, was brought 
before the ecclesiastical court to answer charges of public immorality" 
(12). Moll was cross-dressed at the Fortune Theater where she played a 
lute, not a viola da gamba. 

51 Margaret Hallissy, Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows: 
Chaucer's Women and Medieval Codes of Conduct (Westport, CT: Greenwood 
P, 1993) 18. 


her daughter, "Have you play'd over all your old lessons 0' 
the virginals?"52 The sexual innuendo aside, Moll 
Yellowhammer plays an instrument that is suited to 
appropriate feminine comportment, one in which she sits 
demurely beneath the spinet, legs together. 

Moll Cutpurse, however, plays an "unmannerly 
instrument for a woman. "53 when Sebastian takes down the 
"viol" from the wall of his father's chamber and hands it 
to Moll, he comments that Moll is "like a swan above 
bridge; For look you here's the bridge, and here am I."5i 
Moll gestures toward her unseemly straddle as she wraps her 
unladylike legs around the "instrument" and engages in 
bawdy repartee with Sebastian." As Jean E. Howard says, 
Moll is doubly-transgressive because she plays an 
instrument deemed inappropriate for her gender and because 
she plays it in a public space." Moll's legs are spread a 
second time during the scene with her tailor where the 

52 Middleton, Thomas. A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, I.i.l. All quotes 
from The Revels Plays. Ed. R. B. Parker. London: Methuen, 1969. 

53 Chaste Maid, IV. i. 98-99. 

54 Thomas Middleton and Thomas Decker. The Roaring Girl, IV. i. 82-3. 
All quotes from Drama of the English Renaissance II: The Stuart Period. 
Ed. Russell A. Fraser and Norman Rabkin. New York: MacMillan, 1976. 

55 Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle. Howard points out that the 
"original Moll Frith gained some of her considerable notoriety from 
playing a lute on the stage of the Fortune theater" (123). 


Howard, The Stage and Social Struggle. 


dialogue is stuffed with suggestion. Moll has ordered a 
new pair of breeches, this time the "great Dutch slop," or 
wide-legged pants. The tailor comments, "I know my fault 
now, t'other was somewhat stiff between the legs; I'll make 
these open enough, I warrant you." 57 Even though Moll wears 
breeches and a codpiece like a man, the tailor implies his 
customer still spreads her legs like a woman. Moll is, in 
effect, castrated by the tailor as he replaces the pants 
"stiff between the legs" with a pair "open enough." The 
clever, cross-dressed Moll is feminized in spite of her 
masculine attire. 

Almost exclusively dressed in masculine attire, like 
her historical counterpart, the literary Moll has become a 
sideshow freak whose sexual preference is at once occluded 
and exposed by her dress and manners. As a result, Sir 
Alexander is unable to "name" her: 

"A creature," saith he, "nature hath 

brought forth 
To mock the sex of woman." It is a 

One knows not how to name; her birth 

Ere she was all made; 'tis woman more 

than man, 
Man more than woman; and, which to none 

can hap, 
The sun gives her two shadows to one 


57 Roaring Girl, II. ii. 94-96. 


Nay, more, let this strange thing walk, 

stand, or sit, 
No blazing star draws more eyes after 

it. 58 

Sir Alexander and his coterie consider Moll a monster who 
has diseased and bewitched Sebastian. She is categorized 
as both "whore" and "witch" and must be contained, for she 
"strays so from her kind." 59 According to Michael Shapiro, 
newly published studies of legal records suggest that 
Elizabethan and Jacobean lower-class women who were accused 
of cross-dressing were charged with conducting illicit 
sexual liaisons. Yet, it does not appear that either 
streetwalkers or prostitutes working in brothels frequently 
cross-dressed. Nevertheless, the link between cross- 
dressing and sexual offense was commonly made during the 
early modern period, and women were punished for the former 
whether or not evidence existed for the latter. 60 The 
grounds for punishing transvestite women more than likely 
was not for their transgressing sexual conduct codes but 
for their overstepping gender boundaries. For a variety of 
reasons, women may have concealed their identity, such as 
to seek employment in a "male-only" vocation or to join the 
military. By linking cross-dressing with sexual 

58 Roaring Girl, I. ii. 129-31, 

59 Roaring Girl, I.ii.217. 

60 Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl." Orgel demonstrates how 
the historical Mary Frith' s "masculine attire and comportment are- 
assumed [by the ecclesiastical court] to constitute licentious 
behaviour that is specifically female, implying that she is a whore and 
a bawd" (13) . 


impropriety, London officials attempted to regulate women's 
lives . 61 

This combination of male and female dress, this 
blurring of gender boundaries, was considered "monstrous," 
by the author of Hie Mulier 62 and other critics; and this 
attitude is reflected in Sir Alexander's comments about 
Moll Cutpurse. Moll is being condemned for straying from 
"her kind," not for engaging in prostitution. Her 
straying, of course, is not simply a trope. Gesturally and 
physically unconfined, Moll's unlicensed wandering 
throughout London has brought her a measure of notoriety. 
Moreover, Moll refuses to name her sexuality and confine 
herself in marriage: 

I have no humor to marry; I love to lie 
o'both sides o' th' bed myself; and 
again, o' th' other side, a wife, you 
know, ought to be obedient, but I fear 
me I am too headstrong to obey; 
therefore I'll ne'er go about it. 63 

While one can read Moll's stance against marriage as a 

declaration of the roaring girl's unconventional sexuality, 

I see Moll's desire qua desire for her own unencumbered 

physical space. Moll doesn't want to share her bed — with 

Michael Shapiro, Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy 
Heroines and Female Pages (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994). See 
especially Chapter 1. 

62 Hie Mulier or the Mannish-Woman (London, 1620) . 

63 Roaring Girl, II. ii. 38-42. 


either gender; she prefers to sprawl her body across the 

Jean E. Howard says that this can be Moll's 
declaration of independence as well as an indication that 
"she likes a certain unspecified variety in sexual partners 
and practices." 64 She concludes, however, that attempting 
to define Moll's "'real' sexual orientation" is 
"impossible." With this, I would have to agree. Moll is 
not a monstrosity because she is a bisexual, a lesbian, a 
hermaphrodite, an androgyne, or a whore; she is maligned 
because she refuses the stereotypes of wife and female 
breeder. When she spreads her legs, she doesn't do it 
within the institution of marriage and for the purpose of 
procreating. Her presence, therefore, is not suitable 
within the marriage paradigm. Moll's female body is deemed 
unnatural because it is useless within the paradigm of a 
family/maternal ideology. 

Moll freely admits that she speaks against herself by 
being honest about her desires--or lack of them. 65 Yet, 
Moll's rhetoric also censures other women. In this case, 
"old cozening widows" are accused of gulling young, naive 

64 Jean E. Howard, "Sex and Social Conflict: The Roaring Girl," Erotic 
Politics : Desire on the Renaissance Stage (New York: Routledge, 1992) 

65 Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl." Quoting from the 
ecclesiastical court records, Orgel demonstrates how Moll confesses to 
"blasphemy, drunkenness, and consorting with bad company" but denies 
that she is "dishonest of her body and hath not also drawn other women 
to lewdness by her persuasions and by carrying herself like a bawd" 
(12) . 


men into marriage. Moll not only critiques her own "kind," 
but she also assists in getting one of them married off. 
Throughout the play, Moll colludes with Sebastian who, in 
turn, plots against his father to effect his marriage to 
Mary Fitzallard, a woman who, according to Sir Alexander, 
hasn't a sufficient dowry. Moll may cause Mary momentarily 
to transgress sartorial boundaries; none the less, this 
transgression ultimately serves the status quo. Much like 
Shakespeare's romantic heroines, Mary cross-dresses to 
accompany her future husband. At play's end, the dutiful 
Mary becomes a wife beneath spouse and spinet while the 
sexually ambiguous Moll equivocally claims she has done 
"simple service" to "Father and son," 66 allying herself with 
the powerful male aristocracy. Marked less by their 
clothing and more by the positioning of their "breeched" 
legs, it appears that neither the complacent Mary nor the 
monstrous Moll pose a significant threat to the dominant 

Even though Moll is breeched, she does not breach the 
conduct book rules seriously enough to be chastised. Her 
transvestitism seems of little concern to the powers that 
be. As Stephen Orgel shows, "neither Elizabethan nor 
Jacobean society finds the most visible symbol of female 
masculinity, the transvestite woman, sufficiently 


Roaring Girl, V.ii.206. 


threatening to enact any law enjoining her behaviour." 67 
Whatever "service" Moll performs for Sebastian and Sir 
Alexander apparently ingratiates her with the male 
aristocrats in the drama. Moll not only serves as a 
marriage broker, but she also becomes a form of 
entertainment, as did the historical Moll. Like a carnival 
freak, Moll is drawn out of the periphery and positioned 
within the very boundaries she so adamantly labors to 
transgress. Her monstrous nature, in fact, is employed by 
Sebastian to trick his father into allowing him to marry 
Mary Fitzallard. As Stephen Orgel suggests, Moll's 
"function is to facilitate Sebastian's marriage, to defeat 
the patriarchal menace [Sir Alexander] in favour of the 
patriarchal virtues [Sebastian's desire to marry Mary 
Fitzallard]." 68 Middleton and Dekker would have us believe 
that the unmarried Moll intends to remain chaste and 
virtuous, as the conduct books would have enjoined her to 
do. Any reformation of her outrageous behavior can be 
found in the pleasure of conduct book instruction, as one 
writer puts it. 

In 1639, Jacques DuBosc's The Compleat Woman was 
translated into English and published in London. In order 
to placate the text's detractors and to justify the praise 


Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl," 15. 

68 Orgel, "The Subtexts of The Roaring Girl," 24 


that DuBosc afforded women, "O.F.," the writer of the 
Preface, claims: 

It was needfull then to set another 
face upon it, to disguise a Precept 
under the habit of a Praise, to 
embellish Women with all the 
perfections which they want, to praise 
them for all the vertues he would 
perswade them to; and making their 
pictures somewhat handsomer and fairer 
then they, to shew them ingenuously 
their faults, and withall to procure a 
desire in them to correct them. 69 

This methodology, the writer of the Preface claims, will 

make women "finde their pleasure in their instruction" 70 

that must be doled out in degrees; for the reformation of 

women is "so great a Work" and one that could "dishartneth 

them quite." 71 The first step in shaping a "compleate" or 

perfect woman is to guide her in her reading habits. The 

best course of action is to restrict one's reading to the 

Bible since perusing a wide variety of books is an excess 

that can "diminisheth the light and vigour of the minde." 72 

What is more, reading pamphlets can teach women evil 

lessons and cause them to "sinne wittily." 73 This is 

precisely what Frank Gullman, a "witty" female sinner in 

69 Jacques DuBosc, preface, The Compleat Woman (London 1639) C. 

70 DuBosc, preface, The Compleat Woman, F3 . 

71 DuBosc, preface, The Compleat Woman, G. 

72 DuBosc, "Of Reading," The Compleat Woman, 6. 

73 DuBosc, "Of Reading," The Compleat Woman, 14. 


Thomas Middleton's A Mad World, My Masters, advises her 
companion Mrs. Harebrain to do as she is dissembling: 

If [your husband] chance steal upon 

you, let him find 
Some book lie open 'gainst an unchaste 

And coted scriptures, though for your 

own pleasure 
You read some stirring pamphlet, and 

Convey it 
Under your skirt, the fittest place to 

lay it. 74 

Unlike Moll Frith, Frank Gullman is an admitted courtesan 
who teaches her tricks to Mrs. Harebrain and uses them to 
ingratiate herself with every major male character in the 
play, benefiting from each liaison. Eventually she 
outsmarts and marries the wittiest of her male associates, 
Richard Follywit, nephew and heir of a wealthy, aged knight 
who presents the couple with a thousand-mark wedding gift 
to sustain them until Follywit receives his full 
inheritance. Meanwhile, Frank's wily, pimping mother has 
already sold her daughter's virginity to fifteen men. We 
are told Mrs. Gullman 's "carriage" helped dupe the 
consumers, and she plans to continue her lucrative 
marketing strategy: 

Though fifteen, all thy maidenheads are 

not gone. 
The Italian is not serv'd yet, nor the 

The British men come for a dozen at 

74 Thomas Middleton, A Mad World, My Masters, I. ii. 85-90. All quotes 
from Regents Renaissance Drama Series. Ed. Cyrus Hoy. Lincoln: U of 
Nebraska P, 1976. 


They engross all the market. Tut, my 

'Tis nothing but a politic conveyance, 
A sincere carriage, a religious eyebrow 
That throws their charms over the 

worldings ' senses.... 75 

Mother Gullman's pretense, inscribed by her bodily 
carriage, permits her a social mobility from the lower 
class to the middling class and results in her taking on 
the male-identified role of pimp for her own daughter. It 
appears that Frank Gullman is an expert dissembler, for she 
is able to maintain the appearance of a chaste maiden. 
This, according to one conduct book, is normally not the 

Now the [Mayde] , which goeth abrode 
euery day with her Mother, and haunteth 
Feastes and Banquets, melteth away like 
Waxe in the fire; and driuing by little 
and little the maydenly modesty, out of 
her lookes and gestures, there 
appeareth in her a licencious and 
wanton behauiour; so that she is rather 
taken for a Mother, then a Mayde.... 76 

The inverse has occurred for Frank Gullman. The more she 

dissembles, the more adept she becomes at her role. While 

permitting the peddling of her "virginity," Gullman 

simultaneously vends her sensuality to Sir Bounteous 

Progress who remunerates her for weekly bedtime visits to 

75 Mad World, I. i. 156-62. 

76 The Court of Good Councell, Chapter XII, n. pag. 


his home, even though we surmise that the aged Sir 
Bounteous is impotent. 

At the same time, Master Penitent Brothel enlists 
Frank to convince Mistress Harebrain to partake in an 
assignation with him. Like Moll Frith, Gullman aligns 
herself with masculine power for her own self- 
aggrandizement. However, Gullman' s association almost 
results in the demoralization of another woman. Mistress 
Harebrain, because of her husband's unfounded jealousy, is 
locked in her house. Master Harebrain, like Claudio and 
Benedick in Much Ado, sees a woman as a jewel that must be 
encased, locked up: "There is a gem I would not lose, kept 
by the Italian under lock and key; we Englishmen are 
careless creatures. Well, I have said enough." 77 Believing 
a woman's gestures speak her mind, Master Harebrain 
prepares to spy on his wife: 

I will observe her carriage, and watch 
The slippery revolutions of her eye; 
I'll lie in wait for every glance she 

And poise her words i'th' balance of 

suspect . 
If she but swag, she's gone: either on 

this hand 
Overfamiliar, or this too neglectful; 
It does behove her carry herself even. 78 

Both a gestural excess and lack can cause a husband to 

suspect his wife. Mistress Harebrain complains: "Then our 

77 Mad World, I. ii. 20-22. 

78 Mad World, III. i. 10-16. 


attires are tax'd, our very gait/Is call'd in question...." 79 
A woman's gestures, one conduct book writer admits, are, in 
the last instance, subject to male scripting: 

May not those women who are serious 
passe for vaine or stupid, as well as 
modest? Interpretation doth all, and 
even when things are not indifferent, 
wee speake of them more according to 
opinion, then to their owne nature. In 
fine, the wife must seek Consolation in 
their spirit, and when wee have done 
all we can, to deserve a good 
Reputation, we must flight the ill. 80 

Master Harebrain locks up his wife and sets several 

watchmen about the house, but his extraordinary precautions 

appear futile. Because he believes that both Frank and her 

mother are virtuous women, having read their bodies as 

such, he allows Frank to visit his incarcerated wife. 

Ironically, Master Harebrain misinterprets the gestures of 

the two women he should suspect most: 

Oh, Lady Gullman, my wife's only company, 

welcome ! And 
how does the virtuous matron, that good 

old gentlewoman 
thy mother? I persuade myself if 

modesty be in the world 
she has part on't. A woman of an 

excellent carriage all her 
lifetime, in court, city, and country. 81 

As a result, Penitent Brothel may very likely have his 

way with Mistress Harebrain, thanks to Mrs. Gullman's 

79 Mad World, III . ii . 111-12 . 

so DuBosc, "Of Reputation," The Compleat Woman, 50-51, 
11 Mad World, I. ii. 28-32. 


"carriage" and Frank's wit. Frank feigns an illness (that 
the fatuous Sir Bounteous Progress believes is the result 
of his impregnating her) and gets Mistress Harebrain to 
visit her while Penitent Brothel impersonates Frank's 
physician. As Frank pretends to be conversing with 
Mistress Harebrain (Master Harebrain is all the while 
listening at the door), Penitent Brothel takes Mistress 
Harebrain to another room and apparently to bed. Later on, 
however, a succubus informs Brothel that it was she, not 
Mistress Harebrain, who made love to him. The reader is 
left to decide for herself whom to believe. Frank, 
however, is not through with her witty antics, the last of 
which finds her transformed into a virtuous maiden married 
to Richard Follywit, nephew and heir to Sir Bounteous ' s 
sizeable estate. 

Frank Gullman comports herself in and out of the lives 
of four influential men, transforming her somatic 
signifiers to meet the occasion, now virgin, now whore, now 
chaste friend, now deceptive finagler, now virtuous wife. 
As conduct books promulgate the signs of the ideal wife, 
they simultaneously clear a space for those signs to be 
subverted. If the ideal can be taxonomized into external 
signifiers, then the lie of that ideal can be manifested as 
well. As one author acknowledges: 

Many desire to appeare most to the eye, 
what they are least in heart. They 
haue learned artfully to gull the world 
with apparances; and deceiue the time. 


Wherein they are Maskers, with vizards 
and semblances. 82 

If feminine gestures are intended to silently speak the 

female interior, then a woman like Frank Gullman can write 

her own moral script, counterfeiting with her smile, blush, 

speech, and gait. Speaking of such deceptive women, one 

conduct book writer says, 

Their speech is minced, their pace 
measured, their whole posture so 
cunningly composed, as one would 
imagine them terrestriall Saints at 
least.... 83 

This is precisely what Frank Gullman does, yet we must 

examine how and to what end. In spite of her ingenuity and 

wit, Frank must always involve a man in each of her schemes 

in order to gain economic security, the telos of her clever 

machinations. Like a chameleon, Frank, in order to earn a 

living, adapts her body to conciliate each partner's 

passing fancy or erotic desire. For Frank, like most women 

of her time, she must marry to achieve any social 

recognition and financial stability. In so doing, however, 

a woman is hindered from circulating in the public arena, 

as is Frank. Ultimately, Gullman' s "craft" is anchored in 

the safe harbor of marriage. Not only does Follywit see 

his bag of tricks emptied, but Frank Gullman witnesses the 

last of her intrigues (or so we are led to assume) . Sir 

Bounteous announces: 


Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 114. 

83 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 114 


Come, gentlemen, to th' feast, let not 

time waste; 
We have pleas ' d our ear, now let us 

please our taste. 
Who lives by cunning, mark it, his 

fate's cast; 
When he has gull'd all, then is himself 

the last. 84 

Even though Sir Bounteous is referring to his nephew, the 
message equally applies to his new niece. Once Frank 
marries Follywit, she performs her final metamorphosis, 
becoming, she claims, the chaste and dutiful wife of the 
conduct books: "What I have been is past; be that 
forgiven, /And have a soul true both to thee and heaven." 85 
Frank has achieved the ultimate conversion of body and 
soul, since to "conserve a good grace, [women] should know 
how to rule the motions of the soule, as well as those of 
the body." 86 Her soul immobilized and her body stagnated, 
the spiritual unites with the material on Frank's married, 
immobilized body. It is not only a "ciuill habit, a demure 
looke, a staid gate" that brings esteem to a woman; all 
this feminine grace must be "seconded with a resolued 
soule, and a religious heart." 87 

It would seem a woman could dissemble her way through 
life, an anxiety lurking between the interstices of conduct 

84 Mad World, V.ii. 269-72. 

85 Mad World, V.ii. 259-60. 

86 DuBosc, "Of a Good Grace," The Compleat Woman, 53. 

87 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 115. 


book injunctions. To dissuade a woman from such an 
assumption, conduct books position her beneath the 
"piercing eye of heauen." 88 As for prostitutes, "God defers 
their punishment to make it more extreame; he will not have 
their punishments in this world, which hee prepares them in 
the next." 89 Frank has judiciously altered her ways, aware 
of the inescapable gaze of a heavenly panopticism. While 
the human eye can be deceived, Frank knows that the 

all-seeing eye cannot be deceiued; hee 
sees not as man seeth. Neither 
distance of place, nor resemblance of 
that biest, whereon his eye is fixt, 
can cause him to mistake. 90 

The reformed prostitute recognizes she must relinquish her 
life of dissembling and become an "honest" wife, lest she 
spend eternity dangling like a spider over the fiery pit of 
hell. One author warns that even if a woman managed to 
dissemble all her life, when her body was "shrouded," all 
her actions would be "vncased." He continues, "Rumour then 
will take more liberty to discouer vnto the world, what you 
did in it. 91 

Conduct book writers were well aware of the potential 
for deceit that they created by fashioning a woman's body 
as a slate on which to chalk her soul. Frank Whigham 

88 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 116. 

89 DuBosc, "The Dissolute Woman," The Compleat Woman, 61-2, 

90 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 117. 

91 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 193. 


writes that Renaissance courtesy literature began to 
develop when the aristocracy was becoming anxious that 
their social positions potentially could be threatened by 
bourgeois upstarts. Paradoxically, while this type of 
literature was meant to help strengthen a courtier's social 
position by prescribing his appropriate behavior, that very 
behavior could be mimicked by the upwardly mobile who were 
scrambling for higher social status. 92 In this respect, 
Jonas Barish believes that as a code of behavior becomes 
more crystallized, it becomes "an impersonation, a 
deception," and "Castiglione, thus turns out to be a benign 
cousin of Machiavelli." 93 While conduct books for women 
aimed to create docile bodies of the middle classes through 
practiced bodily discipline, this was a fledgling 
methodology that reguired support-the tried and true 
Christian threat of eternal damnation. 

Perhaps the most disturbing representation of a cross- 
dressed woman among Middleton's comedies is that of the 
pregnant page in More Dissemblers Besides Women. The boy 
actor playing the role most likely provided comic 
entertainment as his female character went into labor, 
unsuccessfully attempting to simultaneously dance and 
conceal her pain. The play-boy's staged gyrations would 


Frank Whigham, Ambition and Privilege (Berkeley: U of California P 

93 Jonas Barish, The Antitheatrical Prejudice (Berkeley: U of California 
P, 1981) 183. 


have displayed his adroit acting ability and "quicksilver" 94 
moves in and out of his disguise. Nevertheless, our 
anonymous page, identified in the dramatis personae as 
"Lactantio's mistress in disguise," is anything but comic 
when her circumstances are revealed. After she informs 
Lactantio, nephew and heir to the Lord Cardinal of Milan, 
that she is pregnant with his child, Lactantio berates her 
for shaming him with her condition: 

Thou art th* unfortunat ' st piece of 

taking business 
That ever man repented when day peep'd; 
I'll ne'er keep such a piece of 

touchwood again, 
And I were rid of thee once 95 

When Lactantio's page/mistress reminds him that she left 

her home in Mantua, responding to his "strange oaths," or 

promise of marriage, Lactantio retorts cruelly: 

94 Michael Shapiro, in Gender in Play, utilizes this term to focus on 
the acting ability of play-boys. He views the multi-layered boy- 
heroine/female-page as a "figure of considerable theatrical potency, 
for as the performer shifted from one layer of gender identity to 
another, sometimes quite rapidly, and as spectators shifted their focus 
from one layer to another with equal rapidity, what emerged even when 
the character lacked psychological complexity was a figure of 
mysterious depths and shadows, of fluid yet multiple layers of 
identity, of enormous power" (62) . This power resides in the boy 
actor, not in the female character or its representation of the 
feminine. Sue-Ellen Case, in Feminism and Theatre, argues that critics 
like Harley Granville-Barker legitimate the exclusion of Elizabethan 
women actors by "aestheticising male transvestism on the stage," a 
practice based "upon the same principles the Church used to exclude 
women [from dramatic presentations] in the first place...the male gender 
within the practice of celibacy is the appropriate site for public 
performance and artistic production" (24). Within this context, 
Shapiro appears to be following Granville-Barker. 

95 Thomas Middleton, More Dissemblers Besides Women, III. i. 3-5. All 
quotes from The Works of Thomas Middleton, ed. A. H. Bullen, B.A., Vol. 
6, (New York: AMS Press Inc., 1964.) 


With strange oaths, quoth 'a? 
They're not so strange to me; I've 

sworn the same things 
I'm sure forty times over, not so 

I may be perfect in 'em, for my 

standing. 96 

Anxious to dispose of this signifier of female shame, 
Lactantio considers sending her off to the woman who nursed 
him as an infant. Ultimately, Lactantio' s uncle, the 
Cardinal, takes pity on the page who is "so soft, th' 
unkindness of a word melts him into a woman." 97 The 
Cardinal, believing the page's "eyes stand full" 98 because 
his nephew has been too "bitter" towards him/her, sends the 
page to serve the Duchess of Milan. When the Duchess 
insists her page be trained in singing and dancing, the 
cross-dressed and very pregnant page is naturally 
distressed at her situation: "Singing and dancing! 'las, 
my case is worse! /I rather need a midwife and a nurse." 99 
As the page is about to begin her lessons, she screams out 
in asides, "0, my back!" 100 and "0 my stomach!" 101 Her 
physical and emotional distress are the subject of humor, 
as the language is charged with double meaning. Crotchet 

96 More Dissemblers, III. i. 15-18. 

97 More Dissemblers, III . i . 134-35 . 

98 More Dissemblers, I I I. i. 132. 

99 More Dissemblers, IV. ii. 88-89. 

100 More Dissemblers, V.i.14. 

101 More Dissemblers, V.i.31. 


the singing-schoolmaster instructs Sinquapace the dancing- 
schoolmaster to "dilate the matter to [him]"; 102 Celia 
comments to Sinquapace that the page is "very raw, you must 
take pains with him"; 103 and the page comments, "I'm even as 
full of qualms as heart can bear." 104 

The page nearly reveals herself when Sinquapace 
instructs her to begin the dance. Instead of "making a 
leg, " the page unthinkingly employs her feminine gesture, 
curtsying instead bowing. The horrified Sinquapace 
exclaims to his usher: "Curtsy, heyday! run to him, 
Nicholao; By this light, he'll shame me; he makes curtsy 
like a chambermaid." 105 Sinquapace' s rhetoric and the 
page's curtsey reduce the page to a chambermaid who, as a 
dancing woman, is subject to religious remonstrance. One 
conduct book author closely associates "disordered places 
of daunsings and ministrelsey" with "houses of bawdrey." 106 
Already written as "whore" by the father of her child, the 
page reinscribes this epithet with her "daunsings." Edward 
Hake believes the women who can "hop, skip, & tourne on the 

102 More Dissemblers, V.i.64 

103 M Qre Dissemblers, V.i.141. 

104 More Dissemblers, V.i.159. 

105 Moce Dissemblers, V.i.181. 

106 Edward Hake, A Touchstone for this Time Presently Declaring Such 
Ruines, Enormities, and Abuses as Trouble the Churche of God (London, 
1574. Norwood, N.J.: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Ltd., 1974) n. pag. 


toe" are the very women who avoid church attendance. 107 
Furthermore, parents who "sit beholding the straunge 
Jestures, footing and countenaunce of theyr curious 
fantastical Daughters" are permitting their daughters to 
defile their bodies and to experience the "utter losse of 
theyr honestye and good name." 108 Hake continues that once 
a woman experiences dancing, she will turn to all manner of 
evil, requiring fashionable apparel and desiring 
"walkinges, feastinges, and watchinges, and al kinde of 
pleasure that maketh perfect the trade of a Strumpet." 109 

While it appears that the page has reversed Hake's 
order— she has learned to dance after she has enjoyed "al 
kinde of pleasure"— the page is, nonetheless, linked to 
whoredom through her body's "straunge Jestures." This 
dancing woman is a whore. Hake suggests this 
transformation can be avoided if figures of authority 
follow an Egyptian social practice. The Egyptians, he 
reports, have a custom 

that women shal weare no shoes, for 
intent onely that they shoulde abide at 
home, and not (so much as once) been 
seene out of the hooses of theyr 
Parentes or Husbands. 110 

107 Hake, A Touchstone for this Time, n. pag. 

108 Hake, A Touchstone for this Time, n. pag. 

109 Hake, A Touchstone for this Time, n. pag. 

110 Hake, A Touchstone for this Time, n. pag. 


Unfortunately, such homely advice comes a bit too late 
for the page. Sinquapace frantically instructs the page to 
make a "good leg": "Open thy knees; wider, wider, wider, 
wider: did you ever see a boy clenched up?" 111 The irony 
here, of course, is that the page has unfortunately opened 
her legs to a man who has deceived her, used her, and sent 
her packing. As a result, she is attempting to hold off 
the consequences of her societal transgression by keeping 
her legs closed. As the page attempts to maintain her 
disguise, dance, and endure labor pains, Sinquapace 
continues to bark instructions: 

Come on, sir, now; cast thy leg out 

from thee; 
lift it up aloft, boy: a pox, his 

knees are soldered 
together, they're sewed together: 

canst not stride? 0, 
I could eat thee up, I could eat thee 

up, and begin upon 
thy hinder quurter, thy hinder quarter! 

I shall never 
teach this boy without a screw; his 

knees must be opened 
with a vice, or there's no good to be 

done upon him. 112 

The page's knees and legs already having been "opened 
with a vice," renders the page "no good." Unable to 
continue dancing, the unfortunate woman falls to the 
ground, in what Nicholoa reads as a swoon. Like so many of 

111 More Dissemblers, V.i. 190-91. 

112 More Dissemblers, V.i. 198-204 


her counterparts, the fallen page lies prone, gesturing 
toward her physical shortcomings and her biological 
predestination. Not surprisingly, swooning as a sign of 
femininity finds it roots in the Middle Ages. Medieval 
conduct books encourage women to display their emotions 
passively. Only "bad" women and shrews demonstrate their 
anger; "good" women moan, wail, and swoon. 113 Of course, 
"playing" the "good" woman comes too late for the fallen 
page . 

The Duchess, who has "fallen" as well, asks 
forgiveness for breaking a vow of chastity she has not 
technically broken. By committing herself to a life of 
celibacy, the Duchess becomes the agent of her own 
enclosure, her body the very temple 114 of her imprisonment: 

Return I humbly now from whence I fell. 
All you bless' d powers that register 

the vows 
Of virgins and chaste matrons, look on 

With eyes of mercy, seal forgiveness to 

By signs of inward peace! and to be 

That I will never fail your good hopes 

of me, 

113 Hallissy, in Clean Maids, True Wives, Steadfast Widows, discusses 
how Chaucer alters Ovid's Heroides and Virgil's Aeneid, sources for his 
Legend, to depict Dido as a "good" woman, in accordance to the medieval 
conduct books. To accomplish this transformation, Dido swoons "more 
than twenty times" (29). 

114 Paul refers to a Christian's body as a temple of the Holy Spirit in 
I Corinthians 6:19: "What? know ye not that your body is the temple 
of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not 
your own?" 


I bind myself more strictly; all my 

I'll speedily commend to holy uses, 
This temple unto some religious 

Where all my time to come I will allow 
For fruitful thoughts; so knit I up my 

vow. 115 

The Duchess becomes her own jailer and keeper as images of 
the feminine "bind" her body in a spiritual corset and 
"knit" her mind to her sacred vow. The Duchess is unique 
for she represents the ideal widow of the conduct books who 
"desires noting else, than to satisfie her husbands 
bequest, though dead: honouring him with a due 
Commemoration and admiration of his vertues." 116 She is not 
the sterotypical lusting widow of comedy who allows herself 
to be duped by the first gold-digger who crosses her 
incontinent path. Never the less, one conduct book 
suggests that younger widows should remarry so they do not 

wax wanton against Christ, and follow 
Satan, breaking their first faith and 
promise, which they made to God at 
their baptism (which is to abstain from 
all uncleanness both of body and mind, 
and to lead a pure and honest life) , 
and so cast themselves into the danger 
of everlasting damnation.... 117 

Older widows, Becon writes should devote themselves 
"wholly" to the 

115 More Dissemblers, V.ii. 194-204. 

116 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 113. 

117 Thomas Becon, The Catachism (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1844) 365 
Originally published in Workes 1560-1564 . 


exercises of the spirit, as to frequent 
the temple in the time of prayer, to be 
present at the sermons, to visit the 
sick, to relieve the needy, to wash the 
feet of the saints, to be rich in good 
works, to continue in prayers and 
supplications both day and night, and 
to be holy both in body and mind 118 

as the Old Testament Judith who dwelt in the "higher parts 

of her house. ..being closed in with her maids" 119 or the New 

Testament Anna who never left the temple in which she 

fasted day and night. All of this advice to widows derives 

from St. Paul. The Duchess, apparently steeped in 

religious instruction from the Cardinal, heeds the 

apostle's advice and removes her body from any further 

temptation and gossip. One conduct book writer suggests 

that "for a widow to loue society, albeit her intentions 

relish nothing but sobriety, giues speedy wings to 

spreading infamy." 120 

Becon, in his Catachism warns aging widows who "set 

their mind on fleshly pleasures" against marrying "boys of 

eighteen years old." These women, "so plagued with 

diseases that they were not almost able to stir in their 

beds" were soon forsaken by their young grooms who "have 

little esteemed their wives," leaving "them in all misery 

whom they found rich and wealthy" and who are now left "old 

118 Becon, The Catachism, 365. 

119 Becon, The Catachism, 365. 

120 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 110. 


and toothless." 121 Perhaps this unpleasant picture was 
enough to convince the Duchess to return to her tower; for, 
in spite of her momentary attraction to Andrugio, she 
maintains her life of celibacy and removes to her estate. 
Moreover, to be certain she does not attract a man bent on 
fleecing her of her fortune, the Duchess "commend [s] " her 
money to "holy uses" and her body to "some religious 
sanctuary." We do not know how old the Duchess is; 
therefore, it is difficult to categorize her as "young" or 
"old." However, we do know that, as Shulamith Shahar 
writes, an adult widow had the benefit of escaping the 
authority of a husband, father, or brother [s] . Widows who 
chose either not to remarry or to become nuns enjoyed the 
benefit of living without male dominance. 122 

Before retreating to her sanctuary, however, the 
Duchess becomes the agent of another female enclosure, 
blessing a marriage between Aurelia and Andrugio. The 
Duchess continues her matchmaking by marrying off the page 
to Lactantio, the father of the page's child. One wonders 
what type of marriage this will be when Lactantio considers 
this match a "wicked and true" consequence of his unchecked 
lust and sees his wife as a "quean" or whore: 
Curse of this fortune! this 'tis to 

121 Becon, The Catachism, 366. 

122 Shulamith Shahar, The Fourth Estate: A History of Women in the 
Middle Ages, trans. ChayaGalai (London: Routledge, 1983). See 
especially Chapter 4. 


meddle with 
taking stuff, whose belly cannot be 

confined in a waist- 
band. [Aside. ] --Pray, what have you 

done with the 
breeches? we shall have need of * em 

shortly, and we get 
children so fast; they are too good to 

be cast away. My 
son and heir need not scorn to wear 

what his mother has 
left off. I had my fortune told me by 

a gipsy seven years 
ago; she said then I should be the 

spoil of many a maid, 
and at seven years' end marry a quean 

for my labour, 
which falls out wicked and true. 123 

Lactantio will have his wife keep her illicit "breeches," a 

symbol of her breached chastity and "fall," to give to his 

"son and heir" as a hand-me-down and constant reminder of 

his mother's "wicked" behavior and apparent fecundity. 

Although the anonymous page is fulfilling her woman's part 

as female breeder, her role is not commendable, having been 

cast too soon. Not as fortunate as Frank Gullman, the evil 

prostitute turned good wife, the page is granted no 

salvific or transformative powers through marriage. 

According to Lactantio' s "wicked" truth, once a "quean," 

always a quean. This comedy might end in marriage; 

however, one suspects there is nothing humorous about this 


Throughout Middleton's comedy, women fall, swoon, and 
blush, simultaneously gesturing toward their fragility 

123 More Dissemblers, V.ii.249-5S 


while welcoming their physical and emotional imprisonment. 
In Act I, Lactantio claims Aurelia as his prisoner to which 
Aurelia responds, "I swear it willingly, 124 even though she 
objects to her father, " 'Tis prisonment enough to be a 
maid...." 125 Apparently, she is only too happy to be 
exchanged from one male keeper to another. The Duchess, 
too, declares, "How happily might woman live, methinks, 
confin'd within the knowledge of one husband!" 126 The 
Cardinal and Lords rever the Duchess only when she confines 
her body and renounces her sexuality. The Duchess cannot 
subject herself and her pride to what the Cardinal calls 
the "unlucky ruin of so fair a temple." 127 She prefers to 
transform her body into a static icon, a "temple" within a 

In these refreshingly varied portrayals of women, we 
find a welcome change from the momentarily witty woman who 
remains chaste during her escapades and is, at last, 
exchanged between father and husband. However, even though 
the women in this chapter more seriously transgress conduct 
book discipline, their subversive tactics are checked at 
the door as they return to the ideal early modern 
household. Beatrice and Hero in Much Ado and Kate in Shrew 

124 More Dissemblers, I.ii.176. 

125 More Dissemblers, II.iii.31. 

126 More Dissemblers, I.ii.3-4 

127 More Dissemblers, II. i. 102, 


willingly submit themselves to their husbands' authority, 
even if that authority has unjustly maligned their good 
name or physically abused them into submission, clearly 
identified in their obsequious bowing before their "lords." 
The other female characters who appear to overstep their 
gendered bounds do little damage to the status quo. The 
transvestite, roving, and individualistic Moll, helps 
secure a marriage, ironically, by cross-dressing her friend 
Mary. For all of these female characters, their feminine 
poise continually belies their masculine assertiveness that 
is, at best, fleeting. Even the women who blatantly 
transgress codes of sexual conduct, using their wandering 
bodies as bargaining chips, such as Frank Gullman and the 
pregnant page, are eventually reigned in, their clever 
disguises and feigned comportment discarded at the 


As the female characters in the comedies begin to 

contravene the signifiers of their femininity, their lives 

become less idyllic, and these "monsters" and "whores" 

begin to reap more serious consequences of male 

disapprobation. The men soon realize that while they can 

read a woman's body purportedly through their own 

subjective lenses, seditious women can cause that reading. 

A feminine gesturology that once meant what it "said" no 

longer "says" what it means. Therefore, women must be 

scrutinized all the more closely, and their bodies must be 

read between the gestures, so to speak. In Shakespeare's 

tragicomedies, heroines almost immediately receive 

masculine disapproval, even though their behavior is 

exemplary, according to conduct book directives. It is as 

if the men are lying in wait, desiring to vilify and 

expunge the bodies of the chaste female characters, 

clearing the stage of even the representations of women. 

Hermione in The Winter's Tale is banished from court 

and the central action of the play and is, thereby, 

marginalized as a character. Furthermore, even the cliched 

male-page disguise that once afforded Shakespeare's comic 

heroines a make-believe measure of authority, has become 

for Imogen in Cymbeline not a disguise for her female 



frailty, but an outward signifier of her state of 
helplessness and victimization. 1 Both characters accentuate 
their wretched condition and reliance on the whims of male 
gods, fathers, and husbands through their tacitly gesturing 
bodies. While Imogen lurks in a cave, swooning at each 
appropriate cue, Hermione dutifully languishes in prison, 
praying for grace. 

Hermione' s apparent state of suspended animation is 
the result of Leontes's unfounded jealousy, a 
characteristic male trait frequently addressed in the 
conduct books. In spite of this gendering of a pejorative 
trait, the conduct books do not address the manner in which 
a husband should avoid such behavior. Instead, the 
opposite seems to obtain. While Master Pedro, the narrator 
of The Flower of Friendship, advises husbands to eschew 
adultery, gambling, and drunkenness, he suggests that if 
this "rooting out" is not entirely successful, wives must 
remain obedient to their offending husbands. This spousal 
submission is expressed through Master Pedro's copious 
examples of virtuous wives who imprison themselves, commit 
suicide, ride into battle with their men, and fling 
themselves over cliffs. The point of wifely obedience is 
emphasized to the extreme when Master Pedro relates a story 
about a spurned wife whose husband was seduced by a harlot. 

1 Michael Shapiro, "From Center to Periphery: Cymbeline," Gender in Play 
on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines and Female Pages. (Ann Arbor- 
U of Michigan P, 1994). 


Her "gaye eyes," clearly undisciplined in their gaze, "had 
so intrapped thys jolye hunter, that under the colour 
thereof, he oftentimes resorted unto hir, and laye divers 
nightes out of his owne house." 2 The wife, discovering that 
her husband's extra-curricular accommodations were "very 
homely," 3 and fearing harm might befall him as a result, 
disguised herself as her husband's sister and refurnished 
the harlot's home. When the husband surmised what his wife 
had done, he returned home, "overcome by hir vertue." 4 
Thereafter, he remained content to live with her. The 
lesson from this anecdote is all too lucid: "in deede both 
divine, and humaine lawes, in our religion giveth the man 
absolute aucthoritie, over the woman in all places." 5 

Like Tilney's text, other conduct books instruct a 
wife in the appropriate response to her spouse's jealous 
tantrums, regardless of their foundation. Not 
surprisingly, one conduct book admonishes any woman 
presumptuous enough to 

beare her selfe, so boldly upon her 
honest meaning, to thinke that God will 
alwayes holde his hand ouer her head: 
for he oftentimes suffereth a woman to 

2 Edmund Tilney, The Flower of Friendship (London, 1568) 139. 

3 Tilney, The Flower of Friendship, 139. 

4 Tilney, The Flower of Friendship, 14 0. 

5 Tilney, The Flower of Friendship, 134. 


be reproued wrongfully, for a 
punishment of her lightnes and vanity.... 6 

Perhaps Hermione has relied too heavily on God's, or in the 

context of the play, Apollo's, good graces. She has 

apparently assumed that she has divine protection against 

slander since her body's careful movements mark her with 

"honest meaning." Unfortunately, Leontes reads his wife's 

gestures through a lens overcast with jealousy. The King 

of Sicilia observes his pregnant consort giving her hand to 

Polixenes : 

Too hot, too hot! 
To mingle friendship far is mingling 

bloods . 
I. have tremor cordis on me. My heart 

But not for joy, not joy. This 

May a free face put on, derive a 

From heartiness, from bounty, fertile 

And well become the agent. 7 

Hermione' s virtuous signals of hospitality, her "free 

face," are transformed into "paddling palms and pinching 

fingers." 8 Peter Erickson says that Leontes misreads 

Hermione' s nurturing, maternal role: "Once the 'free face' 

of nurturance appears to be a mask falsely x put on,' 

6 The Court of Good Counsell (London, 1607) Chapter IX, n. pag. 

7 The Winter's Tale, I. ii. 109-14. All quotations from Shakespeare are 
from The Complete Works of Shakespeare, ed. David Bevington. 
(Glenview, ILL: Scott, Foresman, 1980.) 

8 The Winter's Tale, I.ii.115. 


Leontes's belief collapses...." 9 Whatever the cause of his 

misreading, 10 the more he observes his wife, the more 

Leontes is convinced that Hermione's kindly gestures 

signify her adultery with Polixenes, who is the father of 

the child she carries: 

Go to, go to! 

How she holds up the neb, the bill to 

And arms her with the boldness of a 

To her allowing husband! 11 

Perhaps knowing that women are capable of subverting their 

gestural signifiers, Leontes assumes his wife is 

"disguising" her adulterous behavior with a well-rehearsed 

code of comportment. Therefore, he accuses Camillo of 

having an "eye-glass... thicker than a cuckold's horn," 12 

insisting that his reading of Hermione's material body is 

valid. Cannot Camillo see that Hermione "Is leaning cheek 

to cheek? Is meeting noses? Kissing with inside lip?" 13 

Perhaps, too, Hermione's bright countenance glows in 

9 Peter Erickson, "The Limitations of Reformed Masculinity in The 
Winter's Tale," in Patriarchal Structures in Shakespeare's Drama 
(Berkeley: U of California P, 1985) 148. 

10 Jean E. Howard, The Norton Shakespeare, eds . Stephen Greenblatt, et 
al. (New York: Norton, 1997). Howard suggests Leontes's jealousy "has 
its roots in the cultural practices which in Jacobean England made men 
the heads of families, lineages, and kingdoms, and at the same time 
made them crucially dependent on women's reproductive powers to 
generate legitimate heirs" (2876) . 

11 The Winter's Tale, I. ii. 182-84. 

12 The Winter's Tale, I. ii. 267-68. 

13 The Winter's Tale, I. ii. 284-85. 


excess, igniting Leontes's mistrust. As one conduct book 
writer says, to "prevent all mistrust, it behoveth an 
honest woman, to shew her selfe so sober and chast in 
countenance, that no man may be so hardy to assayle her." 14 
According to Camillo, Leontes's reading of Hermione's 
countenance is informed by his "diseas'd opinion." 15 
Camillo realizes that his king is mad, and as a result, 
countermands Leontes's orders to murder Polixenes, helping 
the king's boyhood friend to escape with his life. 

Meanwhile, Hermione is left to face Leontes's public 
accusations and her unmerited shame. Breaking his promise 
to Camillo not to slur the queen's good name, Leontes asks 
his lords to "mark her well" as he demonstrates how 
Hermione's "without-door form" 16 of "shrugs, these hums, and 
ha's," 17 prove his wife to be a "bed-swerver . " 18 Hermione's 
pleas unheeded, Leontes orders his wife off to prison. 
Like a dutiful wife, Hermione never once retaliates but, 
instead, fulfills conduct book expectations: 

But where the understondinge of 
obsequye and obedience is, there let 
euery one remembre that the tother hath 
the nature of ma[n]kynde in him, and is 
tempted, let the one lende to the other 

14 The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter XI, n. pag. 

15 The Winter's Tale, I.ii.296. 

16 The Winter's Tale, I.i.10 

17 The Winter's Tale, II.i.75. 

18 The Winter's Tale, II.i.94. 


somewhat in temptation, forbeare with 
him, and geue him the place gently for 
a tyme. And though thy spouse in his 
displeasure do happen for to speake an 
unkynde or unientle worde, yet thinke 
that it was not he, but wrathe that 
spake it. 19 

Hermione does forbear, believing, "There's some ill 

planet reigns. I must be patient till the heavens look 

with an aspect more favorable . "^ Bearing up a conduct-book 

exemplar, Hermione instructs her attending ladies not to 

weep, convinced that "this action I now go on is for my 

better grace." 21 Hermione believes that she is being 

divinely "tested." Locked away, she will spend her days 

praying for an added measure of god-given grace. One 

conduct book writer says, in regard to her husband's 

jealous behavior, a wife must 

Continue her kindnes towards him, least 
by fayling of her wont, she seeme to 
wax colde in loue, or by exceeding her 
custome shee seeme to cullour some 
crime, whereby she may drive some 
foolish toy into his head, which 
Jealousie, if by chaunce he be once 
possest withall, she must labour, by 
all meanes possible to rid him of it. 
Not being as some foolish women doe, 
who very unwisely, and to their owne 
great hurt, seeke to continue that 
suspition in their husbands, that 


Heinrich Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony [Antwerp, 1541], 
Chapter 18. I site chapter number here and forward to avoid problems ' 
with irregular pagination in the original text. 


The Winter's Tale, II.i.l06-0i 

21 The Winter's Tale, II. i. 122-23. 


others laye siedge to their owne 
chastitie. 22 

Though Hermione is innocent of sexual misconduct, she 
recognizes that prison is, for her, a haven. Although 
incarcerated, she hopes to be relatively immune from any 
further accusations while under continual guard and 
observation. Moreover, she prays her submissiveness will 
tacitly testify to her unwavering love for her husband and 
her chaste body. The image of a praying woman, according to 
one conduct book writer, is exemplary. Brathwaite 
rehearses tales of women whose bodies became permanently 
marked as a result of their long periods of prayer. One 
woman's "knees seemed to cleaue to the earth, and to grow 
to the very ground" while another's elbows became "as hard 
as home" from leaning on a desk "at which shee vsed to 
pray." 23 Images of static bodies turned to stone again 
suggest a feminine gesturology that signifies stasis and 

This behavior, however, is not sufficient for Leontes, 
who will not be dissuaded from his almost pleasurable 
jealousy, not even by his advisors, dumfounded as they are 
by their liege's behavior. Leontes seeks a sign from 
Apollo, convinced the god will supply only a "greater 
confirmation" 24 of his wife's perfidy. Yet, when the 

22 The Court of Good Counsell (London, 1607), Chapter XI, n. pag. 

23 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman (London, 1631) 47. 

24 The Winter's Tale, II. i. 181. 


Delphic oracle endorses Hermione's innocence, the 
solipsistic Leontes claims, "There is no truth at all I' 
th' oracle," 25 justifying the continuance of his wife's 
trial. The inquisition, however, is interrupted by a 
servant announcing the Prince's death. Suddenly, the 
capricious king, realizing his imprudent behavior, admits 
his son's demise is a sign of his "injustice" 26 while 
Hermione demonstrates her grief with the obligatory swoon. 
Later, when Paulina announces Hermione's "death," she 
chastises the king for his tyrannical behavior but then 
attenuates her remonstrance with an apology for having "too 
much the rashness of a woman." 27 She asks that Leontes 
"forgive a foolish woman." 28 Paulina's initial 
assertiveness before the king is mitigated as she 
stereotypes herself as the foolish, impetuous woman. She 
promises the king that, henceforth, she will "say 
nothing." 29 While we know that Paulina has devised a clever 
plan to save Hermione from the king's tyrannical behavior, 
Paulina is, none the less, forced to construct herself as 
the silent and obedient woman of the conduct books, thereby 

25 The Winter's Tale, III. ii. 137. 

26 The Winter's Tale, III. ii. 147. 

27 The Winter's Tale, III. ii. 221 

28 The Winter's Tale, III. ii. 227. 


The Winter's Tale, III. ii. 232 


remaining in Leontes's good stead until she "resurrects" 

Whether a member of the court or a dweller in the 
country, a woman is enjoined to be silent. Traditionally a 
place for Shakespeare's comic heroines to display their 
witticism, women lose their elocutionary license in this 
pastoral setting. The clown at the sheep-shearing feast 
instructs two shepherdesses, "Clamor your tongues and not a 
word more." 30 And if a woman is asked to speak her mind, as 
Perdita is when the Shepherd queries his adopted daughter 
about her love for Florizel, she demeans her own speech by 
comparing it to Florizel' s "pure" discourse: "I cannot 
speak so well noting so well; no, nor mean better. By th' 
pattern of mine own thoughts I cut out the purity of his." 31 
Erickson writes that Perdita, complicit with her feminine 
socialization, demonstrates a "demeanor of compliant 
radiance" that "points the way to the traditional image of 
woman espoused by the play." 3 2 This image, of course, finds 
its paradigm in conduct books for women. 

Hermione' s final recourse is to become not only silent 
but also motionless. Static, yet somehow alive for sixteen 
years, the statuesque Hermione is the epitome of the 
gesturally-obedient conduct book wife: 

30 The Winter's Tale, IV. iv. 24 6-47 . 

31 The Winter's Tale, IV. iv. 380-81 

Erickson, "The Limitations of Reformed Masculinity in The Winter's 
Tale," 160. 


You are taught to Enter your Chambers 
and be still. Still, and yet stirring 
still. Still from the clamours and 
turbulent insults of the World; still 
from the mutinous motions and 
innouations of the flesh. 32 

Paulina, too, may very well be following conduct book 

advice in regard to a spouse's madness: 

Now although perpetuall madnesse be a 
iust impediment of mariage, and a 
sufficient cause to dissolue a 
contract, yet it is meet that there be 
a conuenient space of time agreed vpon, 
wherein all meanes may be vsed for the 
curing of this disease, to the end that 
Gods wil touching their amendment may 
be the more euidently knowne.... 34 

Paulina engages in the waiting game, believing that time 
and her guarded remonstrations will cure Leontes's madness. 
Ultimately, Paulina's "magic" resurrects Hermione, who 
returns to her repentant and, hopefully, stable husband. 
In spite of his egregious behavior, Hermoine gladly accepts 
her role as the submissive wife. As one conduct books 

Therefore, when the husbands are 
afflicted with any infirmitie, eyther 
of body or minde, let the wives be 
ready both in worde and deede to 
comfort them, whereby they shall see 

33 Brathwaite, The English Gentlewoman, 48. 

William Perkins, Christian Oeconomie: or, A Short Survey of the Right 
Manner of Erecting and Ordering a Familie, According to the Scriptures 
(London, 1609) 75. 


their love will grow more fervent and 

Immediately after being brought back to life, Hermione 

embraces Leontes and "hangs about his neck" 36 like an 

ornament. Ornament or statue, Hermione remains an icon 

whose will is restrained by her own body. She has learned, 

as one conduct books says, "it is not be 

innocent"; a wife "ought not even to be suspected." 37 

However, Leontes, like so many of his contemporary 

dramatic characters, fails to heed the instructions given 

to men in both the Bible and conduct books. According to 

Paul, the husband is to love his wife like his own body. 

He is to cherish, protect, and respect her just as Christ 

did the Church. He is not to "turne his auctorite unto 

tirannye." 38 Still and all, this rarely occurs in early 

modern drama. Instead, we often see a wife severely 

delimited both in her physical and social space by an 

overbearing husband, father, or male guardian. While 

Leontes promises to place his "ill suspicion" 39 between 

Hermione' s "holy looks," 40 playing the role of the repentant 


The Court of Good Counsell, Chapter XII, n. pag, 

36 The Winter's Tale V.iii.114. 

37 Jacques DuBosc, "Of Reputation," The Compleate Woman (London 1639) 

38 Bullinger, The Christen State of Matrimony, Chapter 17. 

39 The Winter's Tale, V.iii.149. 


The Winter's Tale, V.iii.l4l 


husband, he asserts his authority as partner in a "pair of 
kings," 41 by informing Paulina 42 she is to marry Camillo. 
Ironically, the seemingly powerful conjurer who has 
delivered Hermione from her husband's obsessive jealousy 
and Leontes from his apparent madness, must obey the King 
and marry a man of his choosing. With the status quo 
restored to Sicilia, Leontes promptly reasserts himself. 
One wonders how long Hermione' s "holy looks" will affect 
her husband's disposition. 

Hermione suffers the consequences of a masculine 
misreading of her body and is banished from court and 
stage. Rendered inert, she patiently awaits a revised 
translation of her feminine gesturology. This 
accomplished, she descends from her platform as immobile 
statue only to ascend to her husband's neck to dangle as an 
ornament in "obsequye and obedience." According to one 
conduct book, in regard to dealing with a husband "in 
afflication," a wife must not be like Job's wife and play 
the "Deuills attorney"; instead, she is to "pacifie him 
with wordes of grace, and vse those pleasing partes, which 

41 The Winter's Tale, V.iii.147 

Jean E. Howard, in The Norton Shakespeare, points out the irony of 
Paulina's name: "Once reviled by Leontes as a witch, Paulina becomes 
the King's spiritual guide in the last half of the play (her name 
linking her to the New Testament evangelist, St. Paul)" (2880). In 
spite of this apparently authoritative position, Paulina marries at the 
king's orders. Her namesake, St. Paul, advised Christians to marry if 
they could not control their lust. Once again, a woman, a widow in 
particular, is marked as sexually-voracious and incontinent. 


God hat giue[n] her for his appeasement." 43 Furthermore, a 
wife must not discourage her husband, rail against him, or 
be headstrong or extravagant. If she behaves properly, she 
will "bee ioyned with Christ the Husband of the Church." 44 
Made by God to be given to man, a woman, even in eternity, 
will be the wife and property of another male authority 
figure, a fate she apparently never will be able to escape, 
even though she supposedly will "bee made equall with [her 
husband] in Heauen." 45 

The theater and literature will always reflect real 
life to some degree, and early modern dramas and conduct 
books are sites where the female body is plied like 
Pygmalion, molded by male fantasy to please its maker's 
gaze and to elevate his ego. In this sense, the plays and 
the conduct books inhabit a space that is both fictional 
and real. Women, it seems, were always "under 
construction," no matter what the medium of fashioning or 
locus of the body. It is difficult to ascertain to what 
degree "real" women resembled their representations on 
stage. However, acknowledging the similarities in the 
ideal woman, manifested both on and off the boards, it 
would seem that women were expected to behave as the 
conduct books exhorted them. The constant din of the 

43 Francis Meres, Gods Arithmeticke (London, 1597), n. pag. 

44 Meres, Gods Arithmeticke, n. pag. 

45 Meres, Gods Arithmeticke, n. pag. 


masculine voices insisting upon the need for a wife to 
submit, body and soul, to her husband may be an attempt to 
drown out the rumble of a feminist movement, and it may 
not. As so many scholars have noted, we have a paucity of 
records in regard to the everyday lives of early modern 
women and how they responded to their representations on 
stage or their guidelines of behavior as set forth in 
conduct books. 

Kathleen McLuskie suggests that men were the target 
audience in the theater and playgoing was added to their 
list of fashionable diversions. Women did attend with 
other groups of women and with men. However, the accounts 
written about their attendance commodifies and objectifies 
them. By all accounts, women's participation, either as 
members of the audience or as patrons, was marginalized. 
Although women were addressed in prologues and epilogues, 
this practice frequently was executed to illustrate sexual 
difference and to extend the "comic sex war beyond the 
action of the plays into the world of the audience." 46 
McLuskie concludes that we cannot know how women responded 
to their representation on stage or what enjoyment they 
derived from the theater. 47 In the same way, we cannot know 
how women responded to their representation on the page of 
conduct books. 


Kathleen McLuskie, Renaissance Dramatists (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: 
Humanities, 1989), 96. 

4 7 

McLuskie, Renaissance Dramatists, 96. 


The representation of a woman' s body, either on the 
stage in the form of a play-boy' s body or on the conduct- 
book page as the ideal wife, was almost exclusively a male 
construct. How that construct played out in real life 
remains an issue of debate. Essentialized and stereotyped, 
the represented female body on stage elicited male erotic 
pleasure, whether homosexually or heterosexually and, 
thereby, helped support an emerging capitalist venture. 
The often lucrative business of the commercial theater 
realized substantial profits for some its male playwrights, 
actors, and theater impresarios. Additionally, as Suzanne 
W. Hull has shown, conduct book authors were realizing 
financial rewards as they constructed and instructed the 
"ideal" wife within her delimited domestic sphere and 
gesturally-obedient body. 

As conduct books were eschewing the excesses of the 
artistocratic woman, her speech, her dress, her going 
abroad from her house, female characters on stage who 
displayed similar characteristics and who did not "reform" 
themselves in marriage were vilified and effaced because 
their appearance and demeanor translated as "eye-catching." 
Once women acquired the skills to subvert the outward 
signifiers of their inward state, they became moral shills, 
imposters of their souls. As a result, men could no longer 
read a woman's interior against her exterior. Her feminine 
gesturology, the supposed signifier of a woman's inner 
state, could be sabotaged, disguising one's moral 


turpitude. The very gestures that "announced" disguised 
pages as the chaste women they were beneath their stuffed 
codpieces now proclaimed the undisguised as the virgins 
they were not. 

The codified movements of a woman's body could not be 
taken at face value. Women, the conduct book writers and 
male characters soon realized, were beginning to write 
their own scripts, using the play of their unspoken words 
to create a multiplicity of meaning. Such an ambiguity, of 
course, was unacceptable. The female characters were 
expunged from the stage, permitted to return only when they 
could be "recast" into the masculine script and when their 
bodies could be read with certainty. Likewise, the 
aristocratic woman had to be refashioned in conduct books 
into the ideal wife of the middle classes to enable her 
interpellation into an emergent capitalist society and its 
concomitant family ideology. More than likely, this was 
not always a successful venture. The dramas seem to 
indicate a feminine resistance to masculine fashioning, a 
subversion of signs, a resistance that oftentimes had 
severe repercussions. The tragedies, where women often are 
imprisoned, tortured, beaten, and flayed open, indicate the 
potentially serious nature of a masculine anxiety to such a 
resistance. Comedies and tragicomedies were, it seems, 
preparing the way for a dramatic genre that removed the 
representation of women from the stage entirely, sometimes 
piecemeal . 


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I received my Bachelor of Arts Degree, with a major in 
English and a minor in Business Administration, from Queens 
College in Charlotte, North Carolina, in May 1990, 
graduating Summa Cum Laude. While at Queens College, I was 
a member of Sigma Upsilon Writers Fraternity and received 
the Majorie Blankenship Melton Creative Writing Award in 
Drama and the Evelyn Faires English Award. I received my 
Master of Arts Degree, with a major in English, from The 
University of North Carolina-Charlotte in August 1992. 
While at UNC-C, I was inducted into The Honor Society of 
Phi Kappa Phi, received the Women's Studies Essay Award, 
and was granted a Graduate Teaching Assistantship. I 
received my Doctor of Philosophy Degree, with a major in 
English, from the University of Florida in December 1997. 
While at The University of Florida, I received an 
Excellence in Teaching Award, and was granted a College of 
Liberal Arts and Sciences Dissertation Fellowship, The 
Bowers Dissertation Fellowship, and a Graduate Teaching 


I certify that I have read this study and that in my 
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly 
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

Ira Clark, Chair 
Professor of English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my 
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly 
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

] Jd. 

R. Allen Shoaf 
Professor of Englf&h 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my 
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly 
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

James A . P^xson 

Associate Professor of English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my 
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly 
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

J#nn M. MurcfTek 
''Assistant Professor of English 

I certify that I have read this study and that in my 
opinion it conforms to acceptable standards of scholarly 
presentation and is fully adequate, in scope and quality, 
as a dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

C. John Sommerville 
Professor of History 

This dissertation was submitted to the Graduate 
Faculty of the Department of English in the College of 
Liberal and Sciences and to the Graduate School and was 
accepted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the 
degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 

December, 1997 

Dean, Graduate School 


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